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DA 550 H^ St 

a31 1880Q91^359b 

(\ U ,w»r \r & Tfi mmm rt rl ft 

DA 380. H4 S6 

Sm i t h , Willi am Anderson , i S4E- 

Lews i ana 


Date due 

















A FEW of these descriptive papers appeared 
originally in the Glasgow Herald, 

We have added an historical chapter from the 
best sources within our reach, but we claim no 
occult knowledge of the early ages. 

If we have said aught to wound the suscepti- 
bilities of the "kindly Lews folk" it was far 
from our intention, as we have nothing but 
pleasant memories of the people and the land. 
May they all live to receive as much considera- 
tion as the deer and the grouse ! 

Nov., 1874. 



Trees ! Trees ! Trees ! 

Sycamore, ash, and beech ! 
Oh ! for the wild sea-breeze 
• That sweeps o'er the sandy reach. 

Brushwood, tangled and green, 

Scrambles 'neath monarchs of oak ; 

Far dearer to me the savage scene 
Where the sea-waves roll'd and broke. 

Growth is heavy and rank : 

The earth is hard to reach : 
Oh ! for the rocks where the blue-dove flocks 

O'er the wild sea-bitten beach. 

Now snow lies deep around, 

And wolves are howling by ; 
But I hear the surge that drown'd 

The low of the homely kye. 

I hear the Barvas waves 
Thunder across the waste ; 

I hear the wind that raves 
O'er the hut on the hillside placed. 

Now the panting sun doth stand ! 

And flowers rush up to heaven ; 
Can I live in a choking land ! 

My struggling heart seems riven ! 

Ye ships ! bear, bear me back ! 

Ye winds ! beat 'gainst my brow ! 
Till Bernera's sunsets sink to black 

O'er the land I worship now. 




THE LEWS . 14 








NESS 123 

UIGE . . . . * 135 




BIRDS 215 







summer shieling, AND beehive dwelling . Frontispiece 

carloway loch 99 

gress and broad bay . . . . . . .114 







\T OW you just pour the potatoes, and see that 
the fish is properly done, while we put on 
a fresh table-cover and set the table. — " Where 
will I pour them ? " — Outside, round the corner ; 
look about you, and see that you pour out the 
water, and keep the potatoes. — " Raining," you 
say! Of course it is raining! You would 
like to do as our native did, who poured the 
water down a rat's hole in his earthen floor, 
to save the lazy rascal twenty steps. 

Well ! now put on the pot again for a minute 
or two, while we throw out our note-book. 
Our linen-chest consists of a weekly supply 
of Glasgow Heralds, which are quite invaluable. 
First, as table-covers they require no washing ; 
next, they are most convenient note-books when 



any "happy thoughts" strike one under the 
gentle stimulus of a cup of tea, or the solace 
of merry memories ; and also they prove an 
ever-present literary attraction for the eye to 
wander over, perhaps to withdraw the mind 
from the occasional scantiness of the repast. 

But this morning we cannot complain, for 
cod steaks fresh from the adjacent deep, and 
mealy potatoes from the neighbouring lazy- 
beds, are settled in their places by the cup 
that cheers. For here, as in Australia or 
Russia, a meal is not a meal without a potent 
bowl of tea. It seems a concomitant of semi- 
barbarism, for our teapot is never at rest, and 
already we have worn out two. 

Hand over the loaf, please. Don't you 
suppose we want for bread, although twenty- 
five miles from a regular baker ! Bread ? 
Yes, the best of bread. This loaf is baked 
with sea-water, soured flour for yeast, and 
best American flour for sole ingredient. Cut 
and come again ! There is no alum to spoil 
your teeth, you need not fear any internal 
objections, and you may eat it fresh from the 


pot with pleasure and impunity. " The pot r " 
Why, you don't expect we carry about a 
baker's oven ! Mix smartly, knead thoroughly, 
drop it into the well-greased pot, and when 
it has risen, sink deep in the hot peat ashes. 

Nothing like hot peat ashes for a cook, if you 
only properly appreciated them, ye Hebrideans ! 
Do you wish to ramble off for a day, and 
come back to your lone apartment tired and 
hungry, but with hope still alive within you ? 
Then pluck a pair of the fowls of the air — or 
water — stuff them nicely ; say simply with 
bread crumbs, chopped onions, minced liver and 
gizzard, with plenty of salt and pepper ; and 
lay on the bottom of the pot with a lump of 
suet for company. Now fill up with peeled 
potatoes, well spiced, and sink the closed pot in 
the hot ashes. Then be sure and bring a friend 
or two back to help you, unless you wish to 
be found playing boa-constrictor ! 

Hot peat ashes ! " See how they run," like 
quicksilver. Just watch that heap, and you 
will understand all about the sounding sands 
of Jebel Nagus. 


"All very fine,"- you say, "but what have 
we for dinner?" Hope, fresh air, and bound- 
less possibilities. There are three hundred 
hooks on our spiller in the bay ; but if we 
don't catch more than yesterday it won't be 
over-weighted. We had four hundred hooks 
out and only got one flounder — which can 
scarcely be called a fair return for some 
hundred molluscs, several hours of labour, and 
a fair allowance of really hard toil. Dinner? 
If we are in luck, then expect a fish pie ; 
if feathers are about, trust in fried pigeons or 
an Irish stew. 

Thou potent salmon-fisher ! dost remember 
our Christmas stew ? How the peats and the 
day were so damp, but your humour ever so 
dry ; how your experienced camping-head made 
the most of the tag ends of vivres in that 
tag end of creation ; and how merrily you 
taught our hands to cook and our fingers to 

But about our dinner ? You did get dinner ; 
but how many hours' stalking did it take to 
get that duck, "o'er muir and mire," while 


you waited magnanimously "on spec" ? You 
old Californian camper-out, how you whipped 
off the feathers, and neatly severed the joints, 
and fried her, " cheek by jowl" with a golden 
plover, till we felt for once as if we lived to 
eat — and really what else do we ? We are 
savages for the nonce when provisions or 
dainties run low, and the end-all and be-all of 
our existence is to worship our domestic god. 

Food ! food ! What shall we eat and what 
shall we drink? That is the worst and the 
best of exile from civilization. If you run out 
here, you might as well be in Africa, so far 
as the aesthetics of diet are concerned ; and 
we who ever ate what came, without con- 
sideration, have to consider much ere we can 
eat at all. 

Yet who could fear want of supplies, with 
hospitality on either side, and Garynahine, 
the large-hearted, within a " Sabbath day's 
journey " r Alas, that the Grimersta and 
Blackwater should know your rod no more; 
that the sport you made and opened up to 
others should be closed so ungraciously to 


you ! Can the Lews be the Lews without 
you to the slayer of deer, the player of salmon ? 
A free-hearted Southerner should not go too 
far North ; an ever- warm hearth may thaw out 
enemies ! 

But the northern day has passed, and we have 
retired to our needed rest ; when suddenly 
"there is a sound of revelry by night," and 
we are startled out of our first sleep by 
oil-skinned apparitions who have been belated 
on the deep, and now crowd about our peat fire 
to light the calumet of peace. For no one 
has more than a latch on the door in these 
regions ; and quite enough in general too. 
Rarely did we turn the catch on the door, 
and although articles of value to the fishermen 
ever lay about in profusion, nothing whatever 
was purloined. So general is the habit of open 
doors at all hours, that we have heard of the 
girls waking in the morning under their neigh- 
bours' blankets, which had been mischievously 
exchanged by some larking youngsters during 
the hours of darkness. 

Well ! friends ! is the Carloway shore still 


lonelier than of old, since there is no live peat 
in the Dunan, and the smoke curls no longer 
from the hearth of " the stranger " ? Do you 
ever miss a familiar face from the shores, or 
a friendly participator as you " putt " the stone 
beneath the well-known window? And you, 
boys ! you merry, intelligent, inquiring Celts ! 
do you miss the evening boxing-matches where 
you had such fun ; the shoals of Illustrated News 
that repaid your willing assistance ? We are 
tired of you all ; go away and herd your cattle, 
poke about the pools for little fishes, or bring 
us news of the whereabouts of the restless 
doves ! 

"Were they ever troublesome?" you ask. 
As well ask the careful housewife if " lady 
callers " are always welcome ; or a coal-pit 
manager if his men are always pleased. Here is 
a groan caught as it issued from the burdened 
soul. It tells its own tale of woe : — 

" Singularly free from sickness of all sorts, 
considering their mode of life, there was yet 
one epidemic of a most virulent character, 
which at the time of our visit had laid violent 


hands upon the usually healthy inhabitants of 
the West. Not content with attacking and 
fixing its poisoned fangs into the weakly and 
the young, destroying their appetite for healthy 
amusement, and causing them to rise hurriedly 
from untasted tea, and turn contemptuously 
from smoking suppers, it inserted its insidious 
virus into the minds of the apparently sane 
and vigorous, the sturdy fisherman, and lumber- 
ing mechanic. Neither liberal Moderates, nor the 
more constrained Free Churchman, could elude 
its deadly influence; but young and old, rich 
and poor, the comparatively wise and the 
superlatively foolish, alike fell a prey to the 
poisonous reptile that crept into their peaceful 
homes, and drew the fascinated victims into 
its deadly embrace ! 

"< Catch the Ten'* indeed! Catch the mul- 
titude ! How often have we struggled in your 
folds, you hideous reptile ! * Double dummy ' 
too, by all that's pathetic ; for all had eaten of 
the ' insane root that takes the reason prisoner/ 

* Card game — called ' Scotch whist.' 


the root of the tree of the knowledge of ' Catch 
the Ten/ 

"Is it a wet winter morning, and you are 
chuckling on having a day to yourself amid 
the few books that the wilderness can furnish ? 
Your simple breakfast has been cooked and 
disposed of, fresh peats are heaped on your 
little fire, the domesticities of a lonely bachelor, 
hermetizing, got over, and thanking that 
Providence that tempers the wind to the shorn 
lamb, and sends the rain to the student, you 
shake yourself, tome in hand, into a chair. 

" A forenoon's quiet ! don't you wish you may 
get it ? Two forms darken the window, and 
the demon of * Catch the Ten ' lurks in their 
very step, and fanatical resolution in the 
twinkle of their eyes ; can we not exorcise 
the evil spirit? Is it not possible to divert 
the channel of their thoughts for an hour or 
two ? Not in the slightest ! They are wholly 
possessed by it, and, willy nilly, you are 
drawn under the influence, and made to suffer 
for the sins of the people. 

"Their good temper is imperturbable, their 


resolution as immovable as their broad 
shoulders ; their appetite so insatiable, that 
game after game only whets it the more, like 
potatoes at dinner when they come from Wick. 
How often have we wriggled in vain to escape 
it, how often have we lied, how often insulted 
our most esteemed friends : and all the time 
they were possessed with the sublime idea 
that they were kindly whiling away the hours 
of idleness of a poor exile from civilization, 
and all representations to the contrary were 
regarded as arising from a delicacy on our 
part in occupying their valuable time. Ah, 
Job ! Job ! you might thank your Eastern 
stars that your condoling friends never carried 
a pack of cards, and played * Catch the Ten ' 
on your cinder heap." 

This is the luxury of complaint ; the world 
must grumble, and it is well, you say, when 
we find our worst cause to do so, in the kind 
hearts and easy laughing natures of those who 
surround us. Is that so ? Is it not rather 
the truth that the "old men of the sea," who 
sit upon the shoulders of struggling humanity, 


are the easy-tempered, easy-going friends who 
accept all your efforts as their due, and cling 
affectionately round your neck until you sink 
exhausted under their selfish amiability. You 
good - for - nothing Celts, why are you so 
pleasant ? How liberal and free you are, 
— what a strange mixture of the little and 
the great ! 

You never know how ignorant, impracticable, 
and helpless you are until thus set down at a 
distance from markets, away from the kind and 
skilful female hands that have hitherto ministered 
to your wants. Not a woman you could ask to 
cook a meal, or who could cook a pleasant 
meal if you could ask her ; while, as for sewing 

a button on a shirt So, from feeling 

dependent, you become supremely confident in 
that dangerous thing, "a little knowledge," 
till, like the schoolmaster in "Adam Bede," 
you fancy woman ignorant of her simplest 
duties, and yourself fully competent to teach 
your mother to bake, your grandmother to spin, 
and your wife to darn stockings. 

Feel lonely ? never think of it. Whose 


mind can harbour unrest with the lullaby of the 
sea at the door ? who give way to despondency 
with the great ocean mother crooning their 
heart to rest ? 

" There is a rapture by the lonely shore," 

but it is the calm rapture in unison with the 
throbbing of the mighty heart of the universe, 
not the frantic frenzy that strives to emulate 
the little world that circles in the city. And 
if the receding tide does leave stagnation, if 
the time between the throbs is so great that 
man's little soul almost seems to cease between 
the mighty vibrations, is there no smaller 
world beside you to stir your little pulses ? 
Turn up the seaweed of life beside you, see 
the robber crabs in their stolen dwellings, see 
crustacean meet crustacean in combat a outrance. 
No ; there is no stagnation even here, but 
battle, murder, and sudden death. We have 
no fear of circulation ceasing, and seek not 
little signs of life. Rather will we lie on the 
sloping caps of the beautiful cliffs, and listen 
to the melodies of the mavis, forgetting that 


the music streams through a " valley of death," 
or view the circling peregrine ascend to its 
azure kingdom, nor remember that it, too, is 
but a sickle of the reaper. 

Roughing it ! forsooth, rather smoothing out 
our life; for rough indeed must "the world" 
ever appear to one who has laughed and 
lolled so long by the shores of the swinging 


TT7HEN the name of the "The Lews" is 
mentioned, it rarely calls up any distinct 
idea in the minds of the public. A "peat 
floating in the Atlantic/' it has been left out- 
side, and, until lately, no one has held out a 
helping hand to draw it within our ken. 

Since our first papers were printed, the West 
— our West — has been invaded by a charmed 
pen, and Sheila and Mairi, redolent of peat and 
heather, yet fresh as the Hebridean breezes, have 
been cajoled into saying "And are you ferry 
well ? " to their southern neighbours. " And it's 
me that's glad" that they had a trip "whatever," 
for they don't see much company, and they have 
done us all good, and we are all "ferry proud 
and happy " to have met the Princess of Thule. 


In the following pages we shall not attempt to 
introduce our readers to dames of high degree, 
but endeavour to show how the subjects of the 
Princess manage to exist. 

As we have recently had particular oppor- 
tunities of living among the cotters and fisher- 
men in the most unfrequented district, and 
enjoyed the most intimate and friendly relations 
with all classes of the community, the result of 
our observations may not be uninteresting to 
the public. 

Those questions most important to the sports- 
man have been recently so well handled by 
" Sixty-one " (Mr. Hutchison) that we shall con- 
fine ourselves principally to subjects of general 
interest. Men and manners in a barren land 
and a boisterous climate are surely worthy of 
at least a passing glance. The fact that they 
exist in happiness and comparative comfort, 
notwithstanding the gloomy aspect of nature, 
and hug their saturated peat moss as af- 
fectionately as if the sun of Italy were over 
them, and its fertile soil beneath, may point 
a moral to the growling multitude, surging 


impatiently amid " a' the comforts o' the Saut- 

Let us suppose there has been a good year 
for potatoes, what a work there is for the clergy- 
man ! The whole country-side is marrying, and 
giving in marriage. In the year '71, not an 
unmarried girl over eighteen was left in Shaddar, 
and everywhere else it was on the same scale. 
The potato crop did it. But before a Lews 
young man can hope to make a good matri- 
monial bargain he must go to the "Wick fishing. 
Once he has proved his manhood by bringing 
back a few pounds from the everlasting Northern 
herring harvest, he can calmly look around for 
the girl that can carry the biggest creel of peat 
across the moor, or the heaviest creel of seaweed 
from the beach. Let him add to this a scrap of 
a lot from the laird, or from the lot of his father, 
and as soon as he has knocked up a hut, he is 
a remarkably marriageable young man. 

Formerly the cotters were much better off, 
in a way, than at present ; seeing they had 
considerable-sized lots, where, with the labour 
of their families and the manure supplied by 


their cattle and the sea, they could raise 
enough to keep themselves in abundance, if not 
in luxury. But now population has increased 
to such an extent, without any proportionate 
increase in land allotted to them, and the lots 
have been so divided and subdivided, by the 
cotters themselves giving portions to their 
marrying sons or daughters, that few indeed 
now raise enough for their own necessities. 
They are thus forced to purchase meal or 
potatoes at the dearest season and in the 
dearest market. 

It is a serious consideration whether the pro- 
prietor ought not to divide among these hordes 
some of the unlimited moor close by, or whether 
necessity will force them to emigrate, the solu- 
tion hoped for by the laird, we fear in vain. 

The erection of a dwelling-place, into which he 
may lead his partner in life, is not a very serious 
matter to a Lews man. No great skill is 
required, and little expense in materials, ex- 
cept for a few planks. The stones, everywhere 
abundant — for all through the West the rocks 
crop out amid the peat — are brought together, 



and two rude walls built, one within the other, 
all round. The interval between these two 
walls, always several feet, sometimes many, is 
filled up with earth and gravel, so as to form 
one broad outer wall, only one door being con- 
sidered necessary. Upon this wall the roof is 
raised on a framework of old oars and odd 
scraps of drift and other wood, an occasional 
sound plank giving stability ; these are again 
covered over with "divots," or large turfs, 
closely covering it, and these once more are 
thatched over. The edge of the roof falls on 
the inner corner of the outer wall, so as to 
leave a broad top to the main wall all round. 
This soon collects grass and plants, and is a 
favourite promenade for the sheep of the estab- 
lishment, as well as dogs and children. These 
latter are the least tended, as being the least 
valuable animals about the clachan. They 
may often be seen chasing various quadrupeds 
off these raised promenades, the luxuriant green 
growth generally to be seen there in the 
summer proving a strong temptation to the 
stock. Often the outer wall is built of turfs ; 


and even when of stone, skill in masonry not 
being general, a bank is thrown against it as 
an additional support. Various explanations 
have been attempted of this peculiar Hebridean 
mode of erecting huts, such as want of wood 
to stretch the roof over the whole so as to form 
eaves, a former state of great cold demanding 
thick walls, want of constructive knowledge, 
and so on. It seems to us natural, that thick 
walls should be thus erected by those without 
constructive ability, even although they had 
the knowledge ; and that the houses are built 
in the most natural mode to resist severe winds, 
which are well known to sweep over this 
" ultima Thule " with unrestrained violence. 

We thus find the Esquimaux in Greenland 
building similar dwellings, doubtless for similar 
reasons. They are thus described. " The walls 
are all built alike, six feet high and four feet 
thick, of stones and turf. There is a roof of 
rough timbers and boards ; then the whole, 
roof and walls, are covered with heavy sods, 
which grow green, and convert the hut into 
a sort of mound." 


A thin unmortared wall could offer no re- 
sistance to cold blasts driven with the force of 
all the furies ; and if a young Benedict were to 
build an eaved dwelling with his limited and 
imperfect materials, the roof some rough night 
might take French leave, and go dancing across 
the hills. 

On the top of the thatched dwelling, whence 
the smoke finds an exit, the colony of fowls 
belonging to the house finds warmth and a 
congenial roost. This artificial heat is said 
to make them lay much more readily than 
they would otherwise do. It supplies them 
with a sort of tropical climate at all seasons, 
for the peat fire is never extinguished, nor 
allowed to lapse, night or day. At the 
same time, there is the drawback of having 
their eggs always impregnated with a subtle 
flavour of peat-smoke, which to some palates 
is an insurmountable obstacle to their enjoy- 
ment. No wonder the diminutive creatures lay 
constantly, such fires are kept up beneath. 
Many put almost a creel of peats, of which 
eight or nine go to a country cart, on the fire at a 

THE LEWS. 2 1 

time. This is accounted for by the fact that, not- 
withstanding, or rather in consequence of their 
walls, the damp keeps the huts cold and com- 
fortless. The rain running off the roofs renders 
the walls exceedingly damp, although turfs are 
placed in the hope of its running over them. 

Then the floor is the plain earth ; one large 
bench is formed of earth, peat, or stone, and is 
the family lounge, while occasionally a rude 
wooden chair is placed for the head of the 
family. Indeed, the interior comforts are both 
few and far between; at least, as far as the 
contracted space will allow them to keep 

The live stock, cows, horse, sheep, &c, 
keep one end of the dwelling ; the hens roost 
nearer the other bipeds, and nothing but a small 
edging of stones divides the different inhabi- 
tants — sometimes not even that. 

They say the cows like to have their company 
and see the fire, and as they are their great 
mainstay, they pet them accordingly ; spoil 
them with fish-bones for sweetmeats, and treat 
them with great familiarity generally. 


The furniture consists of a large chest or two, 
and sometimes a half-box bed ; very little 
further, excepting the pots in which every 
article of food in the Lews is conscientiously 
boiled, and a few necessary dishes for porridge, 
fish, and potatoes. 

Fifty years ago, there was only one bowl 
in Carloway district, and that was at Dalebeg, 
three miles away. It was sent for whenever 
the minister came over from Lochs — as he did 
every third Sunday — that they might do honour 
to their spiritual superior. There was at that 
time no spoon with which to eat an egg y and 
indeed such an article is a rarity even now. 
When the minister asked for a knife, he was 
told they once had a shoemaker's knife, but 
they did not know where the highly prized 
article had gone, it having doubtless been 
too carefully laid by. 

One also hears much here of the bonnet of 
Dune Carloway, and on inquiry it turns out to 
have been a celebrated Kilmarnock bonnet — 
one of those everlasting, indestructible inven- 
tions for carrying wool " where the hair ought 


to grow," now famous alike in song and story. 
This bonnet belonged to the community, like 
their moor and their history, and on the 
rare occasions when any enterprising member 
wended his solitary way to the great city, he 
was carefully intrusted with its use for the 
journey, to sustain the honour and glory of the 
clachan. How they managed when two were 
struck with the same idea of proceeding to 
" the capital " we never could clearly make out. 

At that time, we are told, an active maid- 
servant received only $s. per annum, out of 
which she had to repair damage done during 
her service; while the men-servants were paid 
from $os. to 40s., and even from 10s. to 20s. 
a year. Their wages to-day may be calculated 
at an average of £3 for maidservants; while 
men receive from £8 to ^10. We have often 
hired able-bodied men at js. 6d. to gs. per week, 
which is yet above the average pay of labourers 
in Irish country districts. 

The oldest dress we saw was that of a man 
in knee-breeches and "hoggars," or footless 
stockings, which was said to represent the 


former apparel. But in 1790 Buchanan tells 
us, " The men wear the short coat, the feilabeg, 
and the short hose, with bonnets sewed with 
black ribbons around their rims, and a slit 
behind with the same ribbon in a knot. Their 
coats are commonly of tartan, striped with 
black, red, or some other colour, after a pattern 
made, upon a stick, of the yarn." He adds, as 
to the women, " the arrisats are quite laid aside 
— being the most ancient dress used. It con- 
sisted of one large piece of flannel that reached 
down to the shoe, and fastened with clasps 
below, and the large silver brooch at the breast, 
while the whole arm was entirely naked. The 
ladies made use of the finer, while common 
women used coarser, kinds of flannel, or white 
woollen cloths/' " The breeid, or curtah, a 
fine linen handkerchief fastened about married 
women's heads, with a flap hanging behind 
their backs, above the guilechan (or small plaid), 
is mostly laid aside." To this we may add, 
that to-day the unmarried women wear their 
own strong hair in a neat roll, as the only 
head-dress, coming out in a clean white 


" mutch " the morning after their wedding, and 
never after do we see them without this badge 
of " authority." 

One article of the toilet we find in general use 
in the present day, according to competent 
female authorities, and that is red ink. The 
close dark house, oppressed with pungent reek, 
is by no means favourable to good colour in the 
cheeks of the young girls, who thus endeavour, 
by this simple and cheap cosmetic, to rival the 
belles who " painted with cinnabar." 

The first necessity of existence in such a 
damp climate is fuel, seeing so little aid 
to comfort is derivable from the dwelling. 
Consequently a winter store, or indeed a store 
for the whole year — as the summer is about as 
destructive to fuel as the winter — is the first 
desideratum, never to be overlooked. Fortu- 
nately for the poor people, it is generally 
plentiful and at hand. Every cotter is allotted 
a portion of the adjacent moor, in which to 
cut peats sufficient to supply his wants. This 
always accompanies the lot as a necessary 
adjunct. A cotter will cut enough in a day 


or two to last him the year through, but peats 
require to be well dried in the sun, and, as 
this depends on the summer, most cotters take 
care to have a good supply in advance, for 
fear of a wet year. After cutting, they are 
lifted into ricks, and afterwards accumulated 
in still larger stacks. From these last they 
are carried in as required. A stack or two 
is placed at the side of the cot, the remainder 
being left on the moor ; but, if the winter is 
severe or prolonged, they have often to carry 
creel after creel from the moor to the house, 
often a mile or more distant, in most unpleasant 

The peat on the west side is remarkably 
good— hard, black, and dense, burning with 
great heat and intensity. That on the east 
is scarcely so good ; but that of the country 
generally is of a very superior character. The 
continuous but not ordinarily very heavy rains, 
and the slight elevations of the hills, seem 
particularly favourable conditions for its growth. 
This has been recently calculated to require 
fifty to a hundred years per foot, which latter 

THE LEWS. 2-] 

figure may be taken as a rough estimate even 
for the black fibrous peat in some localities. 
These fibres, or roots of various peat plants, 
have been observed to communicate with and 
draw nourishment from the rocky substratum, 
being thus supplied from the soil direct. On 
the other hand, the spongy brown peat is 
more especially a moss, drawing its supplies 
from the air and the moisture. The former, 
the principal one in this country, is considered 
by far the slowest of growth ; but yet, from 
its double sources of supply, may not be so 
languid in its progress here as is generally 

The various Druidical remains have been 
cleared of peat that had grown over them often 
to the height of several feet, in one case six. 
No one can say for certain how long it is since 
these monuments of our ancestral faith have 
been allowed to weep unregarded over the peat 
that hugged their knees ; but, if the peat is 
a tell-tale, the above calculation of a foot a 
century would give but six centuries since the 
feet of votaries left unvisited the ancient fane. 


Fuel from the moor, meal from their crops, 
and an occasional fish from the neighbouring 
sea, supply food and warmth. 

With wool from their own sheep, the women 
make their own and their men-folk's raiment ; 
and ready money is a thing almost unknown 
in many families, as it is never required, except 
in a year of scarcity. Yes, it is wanted for 
one article, tobacco — for all are inveterate 
smokers of the most atrocious twist. 

No visitor can help being struck by the 
fact that in the Lews there is an intelligent 
people still living in the most primitive of 
known dwellings — dwellings that carry us back 
to the earliest dawn of civilisation — and that 
men in contact with English cultivation, many 
of whom have learned to speak and write the 
English tongue, are more degraded than the 
Africans in their habitations. 

Many of the people of the West are indebted 
to civilisation for scarcely anything but tobacco, 
the Government being felt only through the 
want of stimulating drinks — a want never felt 
by Highlanders or Islanders in the olden time, 


so long as the land would raise a crop of 

We were much struck with the healthy appear- 
ance of the children, who are rarely deformed in 
any way ; and as rarely succeed in concealing 
their natural proportions. We have seen half- 
naked urchins running out bare-limbed among 
the snow, although but the minute before 
" dusting " themselves, like sparrows, among 
the warm peat ashes. Yet a common statement 
among the people is to the effect that the 
rising generation cannot compare for physical 
strength and stamina, as well as for immunity 
from disease, with that now passing or passed 
away. They account for this by the want of 
animal food, which was formerly plentiful 
among them, but is now rarely indulged in ; 
also by the use of tea and sugar, which have 
replaced the more healthy native beer consumed 
among them in former days, and even yet 
occasionally manufactured surreptitiously for 
home use. 

Delicate chests and rheumatic pains, the 
latter becoming very prevalent in the damp 


climate, they account for by the absence of 
their accustomed home-made whisky, to keep 
out the everlasting wet to which they are 
subjected. Indeed, it is not unnatural to suppose 
that their systems are becoming debilitated 
from the want of a more stimulating diet to 
resist the constant encroachments of a trying 
climate, to which, from the nature of their 
avocations and the condition of their dwellings, 
they are continually exposed. 

Still, it is an unquestionable fact, vouched 
for by the medical practitioners long settled 
in the country, that tubercular consumption is 
never found among natives who have always 
remained in the Lews. Strangers have not 
the same certainty of immunity, as they may 
have carried the seeds of the disease along 
with them. Natives who have been away for 
a time, especially girls on service, not seldom 
return smitten unto death. So it cannot be 
said to be the native constitution, so much 
as the conditions of their existence, to which 
we must look for an explanation. The quantity 
of fish oil and marine products devoured may 


have a beneficial influence, but, above and 
before all, our conviction is that we must look 
to the healthy effect of the blessed peat- reek, 
with which, during half their existence, their 
lungs are impregnated. Whenever they leave 
the health-giving outer atmosphere, it is to 
enter into a strongly antiseptic one. And as 
they are likewise of a stout habit of body, as a 
rule, they are peculiarly fitted for the exigencies 
of their life. 

To see the buxom girls sitting singing on 
the wet moor under the moist sky, herding 
their kine by the day together ; or the well- 
favoured fisherman, as he " sings in his boat 
on the bay/' you understand the advantage of 
a good suit of fat to supplement their sound 
woollen raiment. 

It is Communion Sunday. Let us stroll up 
between the black houses, with their background 
of huge peat stacks, and see the congregation 
gathering to worship. Strapping, hard-featured 
men from Ness, stout " buirdly " men from 
the East or from Uig, gather in groups to the 
meeting. All the houses in the various clachans 


have their visitors, making inroads on their 
stores ; all with the slightest claim to relation- 
ship are free and welcome. So they stream 
along, not to the church, but, wet or dry, to 
the miniature Carnac, spreading out from the 
pulpit on the moor. What a crowd of blue 
umbrellas ! Every one has a blue umbrella, be 
it rain or shine. Do you think that fisher- 
lad would sit on the same stone with Mari, 
if there was no miniature firmament to slip 
their heads under, and make them fancy they 
were " all the world " to each other ? Would 
Donald find room for Black Kate on the same 
boulder, with a little assistance from his arm, 
if he could not cover his head like an ostrich 
and fancy he was hidden ? — hidden, indeed ! 
See those three cailliachs enjoying the luxury 
of a board laid on two squares of gneiss, and 
unlimited scandal, with their heads together — 
would they dare push their noses under each 
other's caps, under the eye of the "minister," 
were it not for the navy blue ? " Who has con- 
tracted ? Will it be a match ? Did they meet 
first at the Uig communion ? Will her father 


give her a cow ? Was he in luck at Fraser- 
burgh ? Look at Ann sharing her shawl with 
Haramutch ! are they not kind ? " — " It'll pe 
a teer market ! The trovers have pot all the 
cheep ! The factor ses non podies must kill 
a cauf ! " And what does the minister say, 
Murochy Shawbost, thou great " Professor " ? 

Indeed ! have we professors here ? what do 
they profess ? A great deal more than they 
can understand, much less teach ; for they 
profess that widely embracing idea, Christianity ', 

and yet they will but men were ever the 

same, though manners do sometimes prove a 
little different. 

Are you desirous of transacting business 
with any one on the opposite end of the 
island ?— wait till the communion — there they 
all are, you see ! Norman the Horse, so called 
because he sits in a cart occasionally, and lets 
the horse take its time, as he always does 
himself; Murdo the Horse, strong as a Clydes- 
dale, who fell over a cliff only to spoil the 
sea-beach, and relieved the tedium of life 
fighting all comers in Hudson's Bay; Donald 



Satan, who drives like Jehu; and there is our 
own Donald, with a swing and a step like a 
captain of free lances, and a face that makes 
your heart jump. Donald Ban, " O fallow fine," 
how your laugh rings through our head ! 


" T> LUBBER and oil! they smell terribly!" 
remarked a sensitive Briton to a local 
heiress in Hammerfest. " Ah ! yes ; but the 
smells is very good for the monies," was the 
practical reply. So in the Lews — the fish occa- 
sionally smell terribly, but are "very good for 
the monies." Without them, we much question 
whether this large population would not subside 
into the peat bog, on the edge of which they 
sit and bob for the gadidse. At the same time 
the bulk of the fishermen are only amateurs, 
seeing they cannot go to sea in their open boats 
during a great portion of the year. The severity 
of the weather thus prevents the skill that con- 
stant employment would secure. Perhaps the 
short days of the long winter, by putting a stop 


almost entirely to all outdoor labour, greatly 
tend to foster lazy habits, while the climate 
seems to exercise a drowsy influence alike on* 
natives and strangers. Those ports to which 
nature has been least attentive in giving facili- 
ties seem to have stirred up the inhabitants to 
overcome the difficulties of their position, unless 
we must allow their greater energy to arise 
more from the difference of race. Thus Ness, 
the most successful and enterprising district, 
is peopled by a fine, tall, powerful race of 
Norwegian origin, while most of the others are 
inhabited by Celts with a very slight inter- 
mixture of northern blood, not sufficient to 
startle the dreamy Gael into resolute con- 
tinuous action. 

The average season's fishing per boat, about 
the Butt, is 3,000 ling — many boats reaching 
4,coo to 5,000. To these may be added large 
quantities of cod, and the commoner fishes known 
to English commerce as "offal." From the Butt 
down to the West Coast as far as Carloway, the 
boats in use are such as may be drawn nightly 
upon the beach, with six men each as a crew> 

THE SEA. 37 

At Carloway, Uige, and Bernera, where there 
are secure harbours, the boats are larger, carry 
a crew of eight men, and are capable of riding 
through a stiff gale. Such boats full of ballast 
are too heavy to row, while, being undecked, 
they have not the advantage of giving the men 
confidence : indeed, although capital sea boats, 
they are either too large or too small. The cod 
and ling fishery commences in November, and 
continues until July, when the bulk of the fisher- 
men proceed to the east of Scotland herring- 
fishery for two months. Through a foolish 
rivalry on the part of the curers, the herring 
fishery in the Minch commences practically in 
April, although the fish are not fit for curing at 
that early season, and the only result is the 
glutting of the markets with a most inferior 
article that will not keep, and so destroying the 
character of Lews herring among consumers. 
It continues more or less until the boats leave 
for the Wick fishing. Of late the unprece- 
dentedly large takes at Barra withdrew a great 
many boats from Stornoway, but the last two 
seasons have been comparative failures there. 


Herring may generally be taken in small 
quantities in the various sea lochs of the 
Hebrides during the winter : they are then 
employed as bait for the white fishing. In 
Stornoway Bay they are used for the hake and 
haddock fishing, in which an immense quantity 
of mussels, carted from the west, are also used. 

These are important branches of industry in 
Stornoway. Hakes are cured extensively for the 
southern markets. Haddocks are numerous, ex- 
cellent, and of large size, frequently 8 lb. to 
10 lb. weight. Latterly they have been salted 
for export, as they cannot compete with those 
from the East of Scotland as smoked Findons, 
from the time required in transit. In the west 
the haddocks are in request as bait for cod and 
ling, as are also the conger eels. The skins of 
the latter being so tough, they are exceedingly 
difficult to withdraw from the hooks without 
the robber impaling itself. The most constant 
supply of bait for the deep-sea white fishery, 
however, is derived from the halibut and plaice, 
as they are always to be had if any fish are 
going. Turbots are not numerous as a rule, 

THE SEA. 39 

although halibuts go by this name among the 
fishermen, which is apt to confuse a stranger 
and give him false impressions. The turbot is 
known as the "quern-shaped flounder," from 
its circular shape. Skates of many species are 
numerous and of large size ; five feet across the 
wings is not uncommon, and fifty to a hundred 
of ordinary dimensions frequently come ashore 
in one boat. Coal-fish are numerous in some 
parts, and are cured in the same manner as 
hake. A market is found for them among the 
poorer classes in Ireland. 

The position of these Hebridean fisheries is 
as unsatisfactory as can well be imagined, and 
evidences the utter want of enterprise and self- 
reliance of the bulk of the inhabitants. Nearly 
all the boats in the cod and ling, haddock, 
lobster, and herring fisheries have hitherto be- 
longed exclusively to the curers, although lately 
the men seem to have bestirred themselves to 
secure the possession of a few. For the use 
of the boat the men pay one share, each of the 
crew having one also. They are also bound to 
deliver to the curer who owns it all cod and 


ling captured, at a stated price, varying from 
8d. to is. for each ling, and qd. to 6d. for each 
cod. Any other fish caught, after sufficient have 
been laid aside for bait, are divided amongst 
the crew for the use of their families, one cod 
per man being allowed them for the same pur- 
pose. Formerly the price included everything, 
and the fish was delivered whole ; but the men 
so often brought the fish without the livers, that 
the curers agreed to give them the livers and 
reduce the price. Gradually, however, the men 
sought both the extra price and the livers, and 
they came to be theirs by use and wont, the men 
agreeing to gut and behead the fish before de- 
livering them to the curer's agent. The agent 
has thus only to remove the backbone and throw 
them into the pickling-tub. The heads the men 
divide among themselves, while the garbage is 
removed by the women to the land as manure. 
Cods are seldom handed to the curers unless 
when taken in quantity, the price given 
being so much less than for ling. The curer 
supplying thus the boat and the gear, the men 
are supposed to supply their own long-lines, 

THE SEA. 41 

costing each from 30^. to £2. But in general 
these have also to be supplied on credit. 
Besides, many months have to be got over, 
during which there is little or no fishing, when 
the men have to be supplied on credit with meal 
for themselves and families. For all such credit 
accounts they are not only charged exorbitantly, 
but interest is added as well, while the value of 
the season's take is not supposed to be due until 
the end of the fishing. 

In the meantime, as the value of the several 
shares is never very great, the chance is that 
the drawings of the men, — acting as they natu- 
rally do with the recklessness of speculators, 
superadded to the recklessness of those who 
can have no idea of how they stand, — will be 
over, rather than under, what they ought to 
receive. Now the system of the curers is to 
endeavour to keep them in debt, so that they 
may be obliged to fish for them the following 
year, and yet not to allow them so much credit 
as to be irretrievably involved. The effect of 
this is exceedingly curious to an onlooker in 
one of the wholesale stores kept by the several 


curers. There, the best salesman is that man 
who can sell the least, and not the most, to the 
men ; who, when a fisherman demands a few 
yards of cloth, can send him away believing that 
one yard will suffice, or persuades him that his 
old oilskins will keep out the storm for another 
season. Notwithstanding all this, the curers 
have got the most of the men irretrievably in 
debt, and it is not unusual for a crew of eight 
men to have a standing debt of £100, or more, 
in the curer's books. As the curers have no 
mutual confidence, but pursue a cut-throat policy 
of mutual antagonism, the men find themselves 
so much in request that they make no effort to 
extricate themselves from their financial diffi- 
culties, and when more credit is refused by one 
curer, threaten to bind themselves to another 
for the next season. Or let one crew be broken 
up, and each member considers himself free, 
despite his debts, to fish for any other who may 
engage him. 

In this way the credit system, springing at 
first from the poverty of the population, and 
aggravated by the mistaken policy of the curers, 

THE SEA. 43 

has rendered the financial condition of the He- 
bridean fisheries most unsatisfactory alike to 
fishermen and curers, and prejudicial to the 
moral and social advancement of the people. 
The debts owing by the fishermen are purely 
fictitious, probably not 40 per cent, being bond 
fide value received, and not 20 per cent, ever 
likely to be realised. The men, knowing they 
are greatly overcharged, retaliate by saying, 
" But we don't intend to pay ; " and in place 
of glorying in the commercial success of those 
who have undoubtedly built up an important 
industry among them, they hope for nothing 
better than their failure, that all standing debts 
may be thus written off. Many who have saved 
a little money, put it in the bank, in place of 
paying off the debts running on at a high 
interest ; and it is not uncommon for a crew, 
on receiving the balance remaining after a 
successful year's fishing, to march off with it to 
the bank. This done, they immediately return 
and open a fresh account, utterly neglectful of 
the fact that for every shilling they may receive 
in interest from the bank, they are charged ten 


for the credit given. The most direct evidence 
of the want of enterprise or self-reliance is the 
rarity of any fisherman or crew — out of Ness — 
owning their boats. Rather than risk a few 
pounds in such an enterprise they would keep 
savings shut up for years, and allow the curer to 
receive the high rate of interest for money in- 
vested that one share for the boat generally 
brings. This, again, may arise from the fact 
that the Lews boat-builders are the curers them- 
selves, and they put such a high price upon the 
boats supplied that the men are unwilling to 
purchase at the rate charged. There can be no 
question that, if the boats were owned by the 
men or their skippers, they would last far 
longer, as well as prove an additional impetus 
to work. At present time is of no value — a 
good day for fishing is allowed to pass by 
because it is in the middle or end of the week, 
and to-morrow may be stormy. Or they have 
no bait for the long lines, or none for the small 
lines with which to procure it. In one port the 
only bait they had was limpets ; but these had 
been completely stripped off the rocks by the 

THE SEA. 45 

constant necessities of old and young, and it 
was a hard day's work for a crew to procure 
sufficient to bait a set of lines. At a few miles 
distant mussels could be readily procured by 
the payment of ^d. per barrel as blackmail to 
the proprietor, and yet they could not muster 
sufficient enterprise to run up in their boats for 
a supply that would have saved them many a 
day's rambling over the rocks when they might 
have been at sea. Every other man has an 
explanation of and a panacea for this evil spirit 
of laziness. Some blame the potatoes, which 
have been the curse of Ireland — some blame 
the want of security of tenure of their lots, 
which they have no interest in improving. If 
fishermen are to have lots, let them have 
security of tenure, so that they may spend their 
odd time and extra money in improving them, 
to their own advantage and that of the pro- 
prietor. For our own part, we are not satisfied 
that a thorough fisherman need have a lot at all 
— indeed, we believe that if the fisheries of the 
Hebrides were energetically prosecuted the men 
would be far better off without land to draw 


away their attention from an industry far more 
lucrative, when properly undertaken, than any 
petty cultivation. This does not apply, how- 
ever, to the present state of this industry, when 
the men cannot possibly support their families 
without lots.* 

The northern fisheries are sufficiently exten- 
sive as well as sufficiently various to keep able 
men at work the whole year through, in place of 
a few months only, thus increasing their skill 
and value even for the fisheries already afoot. 
Why should English boats be fishing on the 
Hebridean banks when not a boat is afloat from 
the Hebrides ? With suitable boats and the 
new facilities for forwarding supplies to the 
great towns, the cry of " nothing to do " would 
soon be succeeded by " not sufficient men to do 

* The lots, too, ought distinctly to be leased to the cotters that 
they may be encouraged to improve them. We are told that at one 
time the cotters were offered leases with only fifty-four rules 
attached, the transgression of one cancelling the right of the lessee. 
One old man, at Ness, laughed heartily at the document ; sagely re- 
marking that he could not keep ten commandments for a mansion 
in the sky, much less fifty-four for a black house in the Lews. 
We much fear, however, that a lease in any case would be 
practically valueless. 

THE SEA. 47 

it," as in the South to-day. But, for this, capital 
must be invested in more suitable vessels, and 
the men trained to work them, as they are unfit 
to do so now. This requires time. 

The skippers of the Lews boats have not the 
absolute control thereof, but more the position of 
chairmen, excepting in the management of the 
boat at sea, when it is essential to obey the orders 
of one head. Their only extra perquisites consist 
of the boat's share of " offal " added to their own, 
and a stone of wool at the end of the fishing. 
Each individual member of the crew agrees 
personally with the curer, and has as much say 
in the agreement as the nominal man in charge. 
And what a scene is this same signing of the 
agreement! In comes a crew, who sit round 
the room in all sorts of attitudes, from the stern, 
immovable, unreadable face of the hardy old 
fisherman, above the hard, immovable figure, to 
the merry-eyed, restless, half-smiling boy in his 
first or second season. But all have a keen, bar- 
gain-making look, as if they knew the full value 
of their labour, and valued the dolce far niente 
far too much to sell work under its full value. 


Now comes the distant cannonading, the 
skirmishing, the advancing musketry, as the 
curer tells his tale and states his terms. They 
must know everything, you must enter minutely 
and confidentially into the state of the markets, 
the low war prices and the high prices of every- 
thing you have to expend. They question you 
keenly and minutely, discuss the probable terms 
of opposing curers, and, whatever they may in- 
tend to do, take care that you understand they 
are not going a-begging, but are independent 
merchants bringing their labour to the best 
market. Every one has objections which he 
states volubly, and every one of which, in 
different mouths, has to be answered separately 
time after time. They rarely agree the first 
time of asking, as it would look too easy a 
victory, and the fact that they may be head 
over ears in debt to the man before them abates 
not a jot their self-sufficiency. So they retire 
to reconsider the question, and have a palaver 
among themselves. Then they return and 
restate the various objections, which a mutual 
confabulation has shown to be most important. 

THE SEA. 49 

These being answered, the agreement is written 
out, and then comes the tug of war. Who is to 
sign first ? Not the skipper ; it would look as if 
he had a private object in influencing the crew 
in favour of this particular curer. No ; he won't ! 
Now, Thoramutch (Norman), says the curer, 
with a persuasive smile, like the historical 
spider to the fly. Thoramutch shakes his head 
and laughs. Ian ! come, now ; you'll sign. But 
Black John vouchsafes not a sign of recognition, 
nor appears to have heard a sound. Murochy 
and Georish are alike appealed to in vain. An 
Englishman would have broken his heart, or 
two or three heads, by this time ; but a Scotch 
curer lays down his pen with a laugh and a 
joke. "Why won't they sign?" asks an ob- 
servant stranger. Who knows ? they have no 
reason ; perhaps they wish some more talk just 
for amusement; perhaps they desire to worry 
the curer a bit. They don't expect to get any 
further advantage, but they don't like to be 
bound, and have not the moral courage to be 
first to bind themselves to what afterwards may 
not prove satisfactory. 



At length a most heartrending appeal to some 
particular friend among the crew, as the curer 
pushes the pen towards him, induces him to 
touch the handle, with a look as if it were red- 
hot iron, and the curer then takes down his 
name ; two or three more follow, and the matter 
seems settled. Is it ? Ian Dhub sits with the 
same imperturbable face, as if deaf and dumb, 
and the most feeling appeals won't even elicit a 
wink. The pen is again laid down, and after 
an amount of active and passive resistance, 
sufficient almost to have stayed the advance of 
a German army, the list of names is complete, 
and the last hand, which has hitherto lain in the 
owner's pocket for fear of being surreptitiously 
secured, has been induced to touch with the 
point of its finger the deadly weapon that binds 
him to fish in No. 10,000 for the season to come. 
The men rarely sign themselves, although often 
able to write ; touching the pen is considered 
quite as binding. 


/ "~P*HE economy, or want of economy, domestic 
and otherwise, of the inhabitants of this 
northern desert may well be a source both of 
interest and instruction. Ways and customs 
long since banished from the more accessible 
portions of the empire yet hold their ground 
in the remoter districts, and the celebrated and 
still prolific mother of invention brings forth 
her peculiar offspring. 

As you pass along some quiet path, a bevy of 
strapping damsels with uncovered limbs issues 
from the rude doorway of a "black house." 
Those same limbs have been dexterously plied 
"waulking" a new-made strip of blanketing, 
or so-called "kilt," as they name the home- 
made cloth of any or no colour, whether for the 


trews of the master, or the petticoat or skirt of 
his dame. 

Towards the north-east the spindle and distaff 
may still be constantly seen at work, but in 
our immediate neighbourhood the spindle is 
only used in twisting the thread, the wheel 
having entirely surperseded the more primitive 
distaff as a spinner. Formerly the girls, when 
employed out of doors during the summer, 
made the warp with the distaff and spindle, 
as it made a more regular and better warp than 
the wheel, and could be worked at by fits and 
starts between other outdoor labours. Then, 
during the winter, they worked at the weft on 
the wheel itself, by which to complete the 
materials for the weaver. 

Near the mouth of Loch Carloway is a long 
cliff, barely out of the perpendicular, which 
was pointed out to us as having been scaled 
by a woman, who continued to work her distaff 
and spindle during the ascent. Although the 
rocks were very smooth and exceedingly steep, 
we can almost credit the tale, as we have our- 
selves seen women carrying creels of seaware 


up almost inaccessible cliffs. Of course, they 
are greatly assisted by the prehensile action 
of the bare feet — boots being too valuable to 
be worn among rocks or on the moor. 

Place aux dames ; let us first consider in detail 
the domestic arrangements in the hands of the 
women, and trace in order the result of their 
industry, which is untiring, if not always regu- 
lated to the best advantage. 

As soon as the family is astir in the 
morning, the grown-up girls, or whoever is 
entrusted with the duty, prepares to go to the 
stack of peats on the moor for a supply of fuel. 
Before setting out with her creel, she partakes 
of the roasted potatoes which it is the common 
custom of the country people to place in the 
ashes of the day's fire before turning in for the 
night. On her return the fire is made up, 
and cooking commences, which consists in boil- 
ing a huge pot of potatoes, to be eaten with 
butter or milk by the family ; or perhaps a piece 
of fish, fresh or salted, should the men be fisher- 
men ; or a few herring, brought over last season 
from Wick or Fraserburgh. If the potatoes are 


finished, as they will be in spring, porridge takes 
their place, this breakfast being eaten about ten 
or eleven in winter. These dishes form the 
principal part of their diet, to which may be 
added, when the family is well off, eggs from 
their poultry, together with the universal, 
wholesome, and palatable barley bread, and of 
late years an occasional cup of tea. A repetition 
of this meal again about six in the evening may 
be said to constitute the customary diet. 

It may be here observed that, as the white 
oats does not grow well in most parts of the 
Lews, the old native black oats is still culti- 
vated ; it has a much smaller grain and smaller 
yield generally, and is too dark for porridge. 
This, then, they principally consume in the form 
of sowens, made thus — As the meal comes from 
the mill it is steeped in water, until the grain dis- 
solves and the whole sours : this takes from three 
days to a week. The mixture is then strained, 
and the fine allowed to settle, while water is 
added regularly to keep it to a right consistence. 
This is kept for making a kind of pudding 
called sowens, which, when well strained and 


not allowed to become too sour, is a most agree- 
able and exceedingly nourishing food. Eaten 
with milk, it is a favourite supper both among 
the natives of the Hebrides and many parts of 
the mainland of Scotland. Occasionally they 
slaughter one of their small sheep or some of 
their chickens, and therewith make soup, adding 
a few cabbages from their gardens. " Gardens " 
is certainly a dignified title for the small patches 
of land surrounded with high dykes, containing 
a few scared-looking cabbages, and overtopped 
by an interior circle of lank willow wands 
destined for the ribs of creels. Excepting pots 
for boiling, which is an Hebridean's only mode 
of cooking, a gridiron for firing the cakes of 
oatmeal or barley is the sole utensil. It is set 
on two long hind legs and two short fore ones 
— like a kangaroo — and thus suited to the fire 
on the floor. Potatoes, now so universal, have 
only been introduced about a century, and tea 
has not been at all used in the West more than 
twenty years. A field at Dalbeg is known as the 
" tea field," from having been once manured by 
the tea thrown ashore from a wreck, no other use 


being found for it. Before the notorious root 
brought life or laziness to the now numerous 
population, the inhabitants were necessarily 
scant and red deer numerous. Venison, game, 
fish, milk, and the produce of the land they 
chose to cultivate, and the cattle or sheep they 
could afford to keep, enabled them to keep the 
wolf from the door. At present they are of 
necessity omnivorous; no fish comes amiss to 
them. Skate kept for such a length of time 
that when raised to the mouth it attacks the 
nostrils like a bottle of smelling salts, and 
known and beloved as sour skate, is a favourite 
with all. Indeed, it often exercises after a time 
a fascinating influence over the originally con- 
temptuous Sassenach. 

What is the reason for this ? Is it not merely 
another form of necessity for something tasty 
and stimulating to the palate, to relieve the 
monotony of porridge or potatoes ? 

Dog fish [Spinax] kept for a short time and 
half dried, like the skate without salt, is by 
some considered a tit-bit, by others of more 
delicate stomach eaten for lack of something 


more tasty. Perhaps desire for revenge for the 
ravages committed on the ling, and to utilise 
the myriads of these savages dragged perforce 
into their boats, may influence some. The belly 
should not be eaten by any unaccustomed 
palate, nor allowed to enter any ordinary 
stomach — it is so rank and oily. The back, 
however, when kept a short time and properly 
prepared, we found not uneatable. All sea-fowl 
they eat with avidity, the cormorant being 
eagerly sought for. In some parts the Solan 
goose, fearfully offensive and rank though it be, 
is eaten when young, fat, and tender, like 
" little Billee." Even some species of gulls, by 
the enterprising, are found to be eatable when 
skinned. Almost every kind of shell-fish is 
willingly received, and limpets are eaten in 
great quantities by the poor when they run out 
of better food. They are understood to be very 
strong and sustaining food, but the intestine, 
which they declare to be injurious, is always 
drawn out before eating. Cockles boiled in 
milk, cockle soup, pickled cockles, are all held 
by connoisseurs to be super-excellent when well 


managed. Sufficient may be had in Stornoway 
for a few halfpence to form a most delicious 
repast. Scallops are always heartily welcome, 
and, besides their edible properties, the shells 
are in general use — the convex as a butter- 
scoop, the flat being delegated to the milk- 
basin as a creamer. 

The sea, the sea, the generous sea, has not 
yet done its best for the native gastronomy. 
Sea birds, sea fish, shell-fish — these are not all. 
Besides dulse, so well known on the mainland, 
they peel and eat the fresh stalks of the 
tangle. It tasted to us like a hard turnip, 
but is much liked among them, and is doubt- 
less beneficial medicinally as an adjunct to their 
diet. Then there is a dark ware called here 
" Slochgan " [Nitophyllum punctatum ?) that they 
boil with butter, and which meets with appro- 
bation even among civilised diners. These 
latter, however, are more partial to carageen, 
found in quantity on some parts of the coast, 
and in common use among the educated inhabi- 
tants as a pudding. This ware — the Irish 
moss of commerce — when gathered, is carefully 


washed, and then bleached for some days in 
the sun and rain until perfectly white, when 
it is dried for use. The dried plants when 
carefully picked so as to be free of impurity, are 
boiled with milk, and form a pleasant and 
well-known dish. 

Strange to say, although mushrooms are very 
numerous in some districts, the natives will not 
eat them. Faery rings are likewise common 
in the "macher"* near Broad Bay, and the 
most plausible explanation we have heard of 
them is, that they spring up like other fungi 
on the outer circumference of cattle-droppings of 
old standing, which have been washed out by 
the rain in regular circles. When they are 
found on sloping ground they depart from the 
circular and assume the elongated form in 
which the manure would run on the slope. 
The observant salmon-fisher, to whom we owe 
this explanation, has entirely divested it of all 

We have so far considered a few of the 
" internal " comforts, and will now examine the 

* The bent-grown, sandy tracts by the sea. 


outward adornment of a Lews inhabitant. 
From the fact that every cotter owns a few 
sheep, wool is naturally the first and most 
important article in use. This is often torn 
from the animal, Shetland fashion, in place 
of being clipped. More wretched-looking crea- 
tures than these poor little sheep, hanging in 
rags, cannot be conceived ; and one wonders if 
it is a source of satisfaction to the cotter 
children to see something more hopelessly 
ragged than themselves sharing the bleak moor 
with them. The natural grey wool from the 
grey sheep is much sought after, as it makes 
the best stockings without requiring to be dyed. 
It is also considered to be much softer and 
warmer than the coloured wools. The wool 
thus torn or shorn from the sheep gives employ- 
ment to the family in the winter time, in 
preparing it for use, and making it up into 
various garments. Enter a dwelling about this 
time and you are sure to see it undergoing some 
manipulation. Here an old woman is carding, 
there a more vigorous damsel is singing at the 
wheel. Perhaps a whole side of the room is 


occupied by an extensive framework of so 
many ells, about which the yarn is coiled into 
hanks from the reels ; or a smaller framework, 
like a double triangle, is held in the left hand, 
and the yarn twined thereon with peculiar and 
great celerity. The wool is manipulated with 
the black oil from fish livers, so as to work more 
readily, and when spun into thread is ready 
for the further process of dyeing. At the 
present day, when the thrifty indigo blue is in 
great demand, both for the jacket and trousers 
of the fishermen and the strong outer petticoat 
of the women, other dyes are not so much 
employed. The extensive knowledge of native 
colours formerly possessed is thus by no means 
so common, while at the same time the people 
are showing an inclination to purchase a few 
pounds of colour from the shops in town, to 
save the little trouble necessary to procure the, 
in general, much better and more lasting native 

Amongst the dyes still in use is the grey 
moss called "crotul," which covers the surface 
of the outcropping rocks throughout the 


country. It yields a fine, rich brown dye, 
much used for stockings and other such articles, 
seeing it is so easily obtained and always at 
hand. Soot, more especially that scraped from 
the iron pot suspender, gives a capital maroon 
colour, and the wives of those farmers who 
still indulge in home-made clothes often make 
a good lasting mixture of these two colours. 
A first-rate black is extracted from the root 
of the water lily, with which plant many of the 
small lochs are overgrown; heather, that rare 
plant becoming in the Lews, yields a good 
yellow ; goatsbeard, a green ; the root of a 
small yellow plant growing in the "macher," 
a fawn colour. It is called rue> and is said 
to be a species of madder. The root of a 
small yellow species of cinquefoil or potentilla, 
abundant all over the country, was formerly 
generally employed in barking nets and lines, 
and is also in use as a yellow dye. It is said to 
be superior to cutch, but the latter has almost 
entirely superseded it. 

Thus any cotter is really independent of 
civilisation for his clothes, the wool coming 


from his own sheep, spun by the women of his 
house ; dyes are good, and easily procured ; and 
the yarn is woven into cloth by his neighbour 
or himself. Besides the common mordant, they 
use " sooriks " (wood sorrel) with blue and black ; 
alum with yellow ; while common salt and sea 
water are sufficient for others. Dulse is also 
used to give a fine purple colour to blue, and 
otherwise improve it and make it clearer. You 
often see newly made clothes of capital quality 
held together by wooden skewers or nails in 
place of buttons; and, as nearly all are in- 
dependent of boots or shoes, and many men 
as well as women never wear them except on 
Sundays, there are families that scarcely require 
to enter a shop from year's end to year's end. 
A shop! Beg pardon! there are none in the 
country; all are merchants. And why use 
boots, where your first step outside the door 
takes you to the knees in mud and filth, and 
your first step inside sends you as deep in 
manure ? 

The light of the fire is in most cases the 
only one that irradiates the hut of the Lews- 


man, but when occupied by a fisherman's family 
the iron lamp may be found hung from the 
thatched roof or some projecting beam, filled 
with fish-liver oil, the wick formed of twisted 
rag or the pith of rushes. 

But before we leave the family blinking round 
the peat fire, telling interminable tales, or 
" crooning " never-ending songs, we will intro- 
duce the reader to a favourite bonne bouche. 
Take two eggs, with a little butter and meal, 
whip them all well up together, and place on 
the top of a hot barley bannock. Spread evenly 
over, and hold a live peat above until it firms 
sufficiently to allow the cake to be toasted 
before the fire. This done properly, no instruc- 
tions are required as to its disposal. It is a 
favourite "piece" for herd-boys; and one was 
formerly due to whoever discovered a cow after 
calving — one or two eggs being given ac- 
cording to the sex of the calf. With beef at 
a premium and cattle at a ransom, we advise, 
in the interests of society and the herd-boys, 
an immediate return to the practice. 


QTEPPING out of doors for a time, we shall 
examine into their mode of working their 
lots, or allotments, which in general stretch 
in narrow patches parallel to each other, and 
outward from the row of dwellings constituting 
the customary clachan. A few small stones 
erected at intervals form the only divisions ; 
so that in the autumn, when the crop is housed 
and the potatoes pitted, one common stretch 
of barren-looking land, over which the cattle 
and sheep roam at will, surrounds the various 
villages. Dotted over this are the circular 
walled gardens, to prevent the ingress of half- 
starved stock, and resembling the mouths of 
Eastern wells sprinkled over a desert. About 
the beginning of spring every man who goes 



to Stornoway re-appears with a new spade over 
his shoulder, to replace that worn out during 
the last season ; their spades being only made to 
last one season. Immediately the beings who 
have been half dormant during the winter may be 
seen hard at work in the fields until the ground 
that has been untouched since harvest has 
been all turned up and is ready to receive the 
barley, oats, or potatoes reserved as seed. The 
whole family is employed at this time, and few 
crews can make up their complement of men 
" until the potatoes are in." 

The vast mass of putrescent matter formed 
by the litter and bedding of cattle, sheep, or 
horses during the whole winter, is carried out 
to the fields in creels, thus turning up a mala- 
rious hotbed in the very heart of their dwellings. 

The roof is next taken off, and likewise borne 
in creels to the land. Everything betokens un- 
natural activity, but, notwithstanding pure air 
and plenty of work, how they manage to escape 
pestilence is not apparent to the uninitiated. 
The roofs are thatched with the barley. This 
crop is always drawn up by the roots ; the 


heads are then cut off, and the roots and straw 
used to thatch the dwellings. When removed, 
after having been thoroughly impregnated by 
the soot from the heavy winter fires and 
half rotted with the winter rains, it is spread 
on the surface of the potato ground as the 
most favourable manure for producing a dry 
root crop. It is only employed as a top-dress- 
ing when rain is expected, and is a great 
difficulty in the way of improving their dwell- 
ings, seeing they value this manure at from 
fifty shillings to three pounds per roof, and 
consequently look upon tile or slate innovations 
as robbing them of their potato crop, which is 
their main subsistence. 

During the winter, after every stormy night, 
the women may be seen at early dawn climbing 
the steep cliffs from the shore, with heavy 
creels of seaware on their backs, or rather 
their hips, for there the weight chiefly rests. 
This they place in some corner of the lot, and 
cover over to form a compost along with any 
fish garbage that may be procurable from the 
boats. This seaware is seldom used for potatoes, 


as it is too wet, but is principally employed on 
the barley ground. When the barley ground 
is turned up the manure from the stock is simply 
spread over it, the seed being sown on it, and 
then harrowed. The rotation crops are potatoes 
with soot manure, barley with seaware and 
litter, and oats without any dressing whatever. 

No sooner is the hard work of seed-time over 
than their play-hour supervenes, the time looked 
forward to by all as the " merriest time of all 
the glad new year/' when the whole household 
may be seen with a few staves wherewith to 
erect a roof to their shieling, a creel or two 
of peats, and a few utensils, driving their cattle 
and sheep to the distant moor. Here they have 
erected small dome-shaped dwellings, about 
six feet in diameter. They are formed of low 
stone walls, with a turf roof on a framework 
of sticks, and two opposing doors, where you 
have almost to creep in order to enter, resem- 
bling nothing so much as Esquimaux snow 
huts. One of these doors is turfed up when 
the wind blows in that direction ; and as soon 
as it changes to the other side the turfs are 


taken down, and the other doorway filled up. 
In the thick walls are openings in which the 
milk-dishes are placed, and sometimes also an 
opening next the floor for the head of a sleeper, 
the feet of any ordinary-sized mortal reaching 
the opposing wall. 

In these primitive hovels do the girls of the 
family spend six weeks or two months gipsying 
during June and July. The men take every 
opportunity to go courting them, as their 
sweethearts on those occasions always deluge 
them with the richest of milk and sweetest of 
butter. It is almost impossible to get girls 
to go to service at this time, seeing it is looked 
forward to as par excellence the " courting-time." 
No inducement will entice them to forego this 
long period of free picnicing amid the heather. 
The coolness with which a strapping youth will 
excuse his yawning laziness during his fore- 
noon's work, by stating that he had been away 
on the moor courting the night before, is most 

The quantity of milk the little Highland 
cattle will give, when thus feeding on the fresh 


sweet grass of the distant moors, is very great, 
and of the richest quality. A large portion 
is soured or thickened, and carried home across 
the moor to the rest of the family, while a 
portion of the butter is salted for winter use. 
We may say none of it is sold, as the little that 
is not consumed, or given in kindness to some 
neighbour who has no lot, is carefully laid by. 

But, Credat Judaeus ! how they do tuck in, 
and what a change comes o'er the spirit of their 
dream during those two months. See them 
step along, light and active, as they set out on 
their picnic, and you would scarcely believe it 
was the same party returning, rolling in fat, 
contributed as rent by the four-legged tenants 
for their winter lodgings. 

Hark ! there is great stir and bustle about 
the port, long ere the picnic time is over. 
What is it all about? They are pulling up 
their cod and ling boats for the season, prepara- 
tory to setting out for Wick. There is all the 
wild excitement and shouting inseparable from 
any general activity among the nervous Celts, 
lasting for some days. Then the men are 


scarcely to be seen for a day or two, as they 
overhaul their clothes and prepare their kits ; 
their little canvas bags are carted over to the 
steamer, and the place is desolate of its de- 
fenders for a time. Only a few old men and 
young boys are left ; and, indeed, no one will 
remain who can raise a few shillings to pay 
his passage, and has the necessary strength 
for the labour at sea. The following lines 
convey a just idea of the importance attached 
to this annual trip among the young men and 
maidens : — 

As the sun went down, with golden crown, 

O'er Bernera's rocky ridges, 
And threw his rays o'er bights and bays, 

Like fancy fairy bridges, 

A maiden sat, without her hat, 

All in the evening breezes 
Upon the hills, despising chills, 

And not afraid of sneezes. 

" How now ? my dear, what dost thou here ? 

Have quarrelled with your vain beau ? " 
"No lover I ; while in the sky 

Miss Cloud has got a rain beau." 

" Just wait a bit, my little chit " — 

I chucked her 'neath the chin — 
" 'Tis kiss and go with a fancy beau ; 

Miss Cloud is taken in." 


Just as I feared, he disappeared 

Like robber down a skylight, 
And poor Miss Cloud wept not aloud, 

But faded in the twilight. 

" But who is this, my blushing Miss, 

Comes swinging with his stick ? " 
" That's only Jim ; I don't count him — 

He hasn't been to Wick." 

" This skipper here, my naughty dear, 

Looks sweeter than he ought." 
" Why, don't you see he's nobody ? 

He hasn't got a lot." 

I turned aside with humbled pride — 

My heart was very sick ; 
No lot I had, and, twice as bad, 

I hadn't been to Wick ! 

The usual mode of engaging at Wick is for a 
definite wage, along with board and lodgings. 
After paying their passage to and fro, and ex- 
penses until an engagement is secured, the men 
can generally return with two or three pounds 
or more, according to their skill and experience. 
Down the East coast, on the other hand, the 
principle is for the men to pay their own board 
and lodgings, and take the chance of the fish- 
ing, being paid so much per cran. This is the 
mode of arrangement at Fraserburgh, and to 
this place a better class of men go — men who 


are able to pay their way and remain out of 
their money until the end of the fishing. If the 
fishing is good, they often return from their trip 
to this place with £20 to ^30— a very large 
sum for a Lews man, and sufficient to support 
his family in comfort for the remainder of the 

After six or seven weeks in Caithness, the 
men return home about the end of the first week 
in September, improved physically and finan- 
cially. Thenceforward for some time they are 
very idle — a few boats, perhaps, prosecuting the 
lobster-fishing on the west. Fishing for lythe 
and saithe, the young of the pollack and coal-fish, 
is now looked forward to as the evening employ- 
ment of the younger members who can manage 
to procure a seat in a boat. The former fish 
is very numerous along this rocky coast, and, 
although soft in the flesh, is a welcome addi- 
tion to the Lews diet at this season. Besides 
the usual white fly, the most killing bait used 
here for this species is a hook busked with a 
piece of the tail of the dog-fish ; in ordinary 
weather it is most destructive. The proper 


mode of fishing lythe in the loch is to row a 
boat slowly with flies attached to strong rods 
dragging behind the boat, the ends sunk a foot 
or two under water. The boat must be kept 
close to the rocks, and the best time for capture 
is in the evening, when it is half-tide and rising, 
at which periods they may often be captured as 
fast as the rod can be drawn in, the two or three 
hooks each occupied by a fish from six inches to 
a foot or two in length. 

About this time the harvest operations are 
carried on mostly by the women, as in seed- 
time. The potatoes are dug up and creeled 
home to be pitted near the houses ; the oats 
are cut down with the sickle, and the barley 
drawn up by the roots. Many hands make 
light work as well as quick work ; and as the 
climate is so variable and untrustworthy, they 
never halt in favourable weather until the 
grain is all housed. The whole household 
is engaged in this work, the children being 
withdrawn from school both at seed-time and 

Nowhere more than in the Lews is the com- 


pulsory clause of the Education Bill demanded, 
as the work of the children is merely nominal 
in most cases, and could well be dispensed with, 
to their advantage. During the autumn and 
winter the grain is prepared at leisure, as 
the potatoes are first consumed, or nearly so, 
before the meal is much run upon. When in 
urgent need of meal, the grain is sometimes 
dried in an iron pot on the fire, and then taken 
to the quern or handmill, where, however, a 
great quantity is necessarily lost, from the dif- 
ficulty of collecting it as it issues from between 
the stones. This meal is called " gratanach," 
is much liked by some people who could not 
well digest the common meal, and is the 
ancient way of preparing it. In old times, also, 
the barley heads were taken, and the grain 
" switched " out of them, as is done occasionally 
in some parts even now, and kiln-dried in the 
husks. To-day, however, the most usual way 
is by the flail, when the grain is winnowed in 
the breeze that is always ready for it, and then 
taken to the kiln. Every six or eight cotters 
join together and build one of these little huts 


for their mutual benefit. A hole is dug in the 
centre, with a trench leading to it. This is 
covered over so as to support a quantity of 
straw, on which the grain is laid. The heat 
from a peat fire is led under the straw along 
the trench, and the grain thus dried. After 
this the grain is taken to one of the little mills, 
also erected by the joint efforts of a portion of 
the cotters. 

Follow one of the narrow mill -lades from 
some stream, and you arrive at a little Esqui- 
maux-looking hut. Crawl into this, and you 
find two good granite stones ; suspended over 
the centre is a stout bag of woven rushes ; 
through one corner of this the grain trickles 
into a wooden shoe. As the stone revolves, a 
projecting stick strikes this shoe and tilts the 
contents into the hole in the stone, the shoe 
being refilled by the next revolution. The 
grain is deposited in a hole in the stonework 
on which the millstones rest, the hut itself being 
in most cases built of turf. The stones are cut 
with great labour and patience out of the granite 
rock by the village mason or blacksmith ; and 


a granite cliff near Dalebeg, on the road from 
Carloway to Barvas, is often occupied at the 
base by an industrious millstone hewer. Here 
and there modern mills have been erected by 
the proprietor, and let to tenants ; all the cotters 
within a certain district are obliged to send 
their grain thither, or pay the miller the same 
as if they did. This is rather a high-handed 
mode of introducing civilisation. For instance, 
the people of Uige have to forward their grain 
to Callanish Mill, either going upwards of 
twenty miles by road or crossing Loch Roag 
by boat, when, on arrival, the mill may be full 
of work, or the weather too stormy to return. 
Such eventualities often occur. In this way 
several days are always, and many days often, 
spent away from home, while the families are 
awaiting the meal they might have had ground 
at their doors. A great many people prefer 
paying the penalty and grinding at their own 
little mills, and all complain of the great tax 
thus imposed upon them to enable the worthy 
miller to pay his rent. The meal once ground, 
they have provided themselves with sieves 


through which to take off the rough. These 
are made of sheepskins, stretched over strong 
wooden hoops until they are tight as a drum ; 
the perforations are made with a small awl 
made of a straightened cod-hook with the barb 
chipped off : this is stuck in a handle of tangle 
stem, which enables the hand to grasp it 
readily when heated in the fire. These simple 
and useful little instruments are in universal 
use in the Lews for this and similar pur- 


" IT' ATRINA has contracted with Callum 
Callum," said our friend Norman, the 
morning after this important preliminary cere- 
mony to the marriage of the couple had been 
gone through. " They are going into town on 
Wednesday/' he added, this being, of -course, to 
buy the braws and the whisky, preparatory to 
the great event, which was expected to come off 
in a fortnight. In the Lews there is always this 
" contract " previous to marriage. To this a few 
friends of both parties are invited, when they 
pledge their troth to each other. As one lad 
described it, " They sit looking at one another 
and laughing, and the friends look at them and 
they laugh, and when all are tired sitting and 
laughing the friends make them take hands 


before them all, and promise to be man and 
wife." Then - the spirit of unrest, till then 
corked in a whisky bottle, is let loose. The 
select coterie of friends now drink to the health 
of the pair, and agree as to the extent of their 
liberality to them ; after which, outsiders are 
allowed to enter, and help to pass the evening 
merrily. Thus, often these contract parties wind 
up by singing and dancing through the evening. 
Immediately thereafter a visit is made to Stor- 
noway by the pair, on foot — or, if fortunate, in a 
cart — from whence they return gaily bedizened 
for the sacrifice. The day is now fixed to suit 
the minister, who is always the autocrat of the 
district, and may refuse to marry them on ac- 
count of some trifling crotchet. If they happen 
to be in luck, however, they may return " one 
flesh " after a walk of twenty-five miles. This 
the younger members of the marriage party 
undertake, walking couple by couple after the 
bride and bridegroom, neatly dressed and 
stoutly shod, for the winter season, when 
marriages are mostly perpetrated, rarely vouch- 
safes a dry journey. On their return from the 


religious ceremony they proceed to the house 
of the bride's parents, where a- large party of 
friends are assembled, ready and anxious to 
begin the dancing. 

It is the month of December in the Hebrides, 
with its miserably short days and its long 
evenings by the peat fire. We have shouldered 
our guns about two hours after nightfall, and 
are now seeking our uncertain way " o'er muir 
and mire " to the hut at present occupied by a 
happy party. Scrambling and tumbling along 
over awkward stones, soaking "lazybeds," un- 
expected ditches, and moss holes to be expected 
and avoided, we at length fancy ourselves near 
the spot. We fire off our guns as both a notice 
and an honour, and are soon rushed upon by 
some wild dancers in their shirt-sleeves, carry- 
ing blazing peats to direct our steps. This pre- 
caution is rendered far more necessary by our 
approach to the clachan, where a biped and 
quadruped host always combine to trample the 
neighbourhood into a quagmire. The wild 
figures with their peat torches, directing us, by 
winding ways, through layers of filth, to the 



door of a low miserable-looking dwelling, 
resembling the erections in an Arab "tribu," 
would almost lead one to anticipate an encamp- 
ment of more than half-naked savages. Stoop 
well as you enter the door, and tread warily 
up the bed of accumulated manure, several feet 
thick, that marks the portion of the dwelling 
assigned to the quadrupeds. Hullo friend! 
you are bumping against a cow; a quick step 
aside, and you are trampling on a recumbent 
calf; a half turn in the dim light, and you 
narrowly escape going headlong over a placid 
old ewe ; while your awkward route up the long 
room sets all the hens cackling and the cocks 
crowing at the plunges of the clumsy Sassenach. 
Emerging from the "midden" on to the 
earthen floor, you find a fire blazing in the 
centre, a few rude chairs around, and a quiet 
corner beyond between two beds. The hook 
pendant by an iron chain from the roof supports 
a potato pot ; cakes of oats and barley-meal rest 
against gridirons around the fire, about which 
the matrons come and go on their domestic 
errands. Between the beds a deal table is set 


with a little mutton, fowls, and potatoes, not 
forgetting the whisky bottle, from which to drink 
the health of the couple— always freely offered 
to a stranger, and taken neat. 

The meal over, a narrow doorway leads into 
the barn, which has been cleared for the dancing, 
with the exception of a large pile of straw at 
one end. The uneven earthen floor has been 
carefully swept, and spread with a little saw- 
dust, while long boards, set on meal-bags and 
herring-barrels, extend round the apartment, 
and already are decorated with stout hearty 
men and buxom blooming lasses, all ready for 
action. Savages, indeed ! they meet the stranger 
with the well-bred ease of men and women of 
the world ; no clownish shamefacedness among 
these quick-witted Celts ; no awkward attempts 
to excuse their primitive hospitality. With that 
quiet self-contained readiness which is the out- 
ward exponent of inbred manliness, they meet 
your grasp and find you a seat. 

Meantime those seated join hands all round, 
and beat time to the wild Gaelic air sung by 
two of the girls, all joining in the chorus- 


These songs come in as interludes to the 
dancing every now and then, and may be 
carried on ad infinitum, the number of verses 
being apparently as unlimited as the powers of 
memory of the musicians. Many of the girls 
are also endowed with a facility of improvising 
extra verses referring to those present, the 
chorus giving time for composition. The effect 
of these wild airs filling the rude barn, from 
the thatched roof of which depend one or two 
rude lamps, is strange and picturesque. All 
beat time with great energy, and vie with 
each other in fluency of utterance. Some 
restless youngsters now propose a dance, and 
forthwith two couples are on the floor, dancing 
to their partners and swinging round, more 
in the fashion of an Irish jig, dashed with the 
Reel of Houlachan, than any other known 
performance. The girls in this take in general 
the initiative, and, as might be expected when 
they do all the hard work, show far more 
energy, enterprise, and endurance than the 
miserable male creatures who occasionally do 
a little fishing, to enable them to eke out the 


potatoes planted and harvested by their wives 
or sisters ! The only music to which they dance 
is the human voice. A strathspey or other 
air is sung in capital time and in thrilling 
unison by two or three girls, to whom con- 
stant practice in the long winters around 
the fire, or on the lonely moor attending the 
kine, has given super-excellent and untiring 
lungs. Hour after hour, with slight intervals, 
will the same girls continue to give tune after 
tune, until you begin to fancy them musical 
boxes. The airs get mixed up with your ideas 
interminably, refusing to leave your aching 
brain, from chamber to chamber of which they 
re-echo for weeks. Wonderful to relate, with 
an occasional but rare glass of whisky, this 
cheerful, happy, pleasure - loving race, little 
accustomed to variety or severity of excitement, 
continue to sing and dance the same half-reel, 
half-jig, until three or four in the morning, 
when the girls are called off to the bedding 
of the bride in another apartment. This ancient 
ceremony completed, the men, headed by the 
"best" man, proceed to the same room and 


undress the bridegroom, placing him in bed also. 
From this position he hands a glass of whisky to 
each of the friends who have been admitted 
thus far, to drink longevity and fertility. They 
then return to the dancing-room, where they 
trip it till daylight. Some few may then go 
home for an hour or two to. rest until mid-day, 
when they awaken the bride, this being the 
completion of the time - honoured " bedding 
ceremony" begun on the previous night. The 
wedding breakfast is then partaken of, and 
dancing recommences, if it has ever been really 
stopped ; for it is a universal custom for the 
wearied dancer to throw himself down with his 
partner on the adjacent bed, awakening after 
a short nap, refreshed and invigorated for an- 
other spell, leaving the bed for another couple, 
for it is seldom unoccupied during the whole 
time of the wedding. During the afternoon 
of this, the second day, it is customary for the 
bridal party, headed, as usual, by the married 
couple, to set out for a walk of half-an-hour 
or so, returning to the close and superheated 
dwellings with a few mouthfuls of fresh air. 


The party have now transferred themselves 
to the dwelling of the bridegroom's father, 
and here we are once more assembled. 
As no . barn has been cleared out, we are 
seated round the blazing fire, and dancing 
still vigorously on the " house " side of it, the 
other being occupied principally by the live 
stock. The peat-reek is pungent, the fire terribly 
hot, the floor uneven, and the atmosphere 
close ; but the people are determined to enjoy 
themselves, and we enter heartily into their 
mirth, dancing through the whole circle of 
strathspey and reel steps until the assembled 
eyes are heavy, the feet weary, and the feelings 
unable to respond to the continued merriment. 
Ha ! there is a fresh face ! You must get a 
partner at once and get up ! But the new comer 
continues stubborn, until a hearty little singer 
and dancer from the neighbouring village ap- 
proaches us once more. He is greeted with 
" Here comes Tolsta," and under his nickname of 
" Aulach," or " the strong man," is called upon 
to drag up the new comer, but in vain. We then 
endeavour to incite the emulation of the various 


villages, and start " Garnin," the strong and 
tireless, once again. An active partner and 
rattling singers from the same clachan soon 
infuse fresh spirit, and for another hour 
Garnin jumps against Kiriwig, Carloway against 
Boroston, and Tolsta against Knock. At 
length, the tired performers turn upon the 
guest, and insist that he should still again 
represent the Dunan, of which he is the only 
inhabitant. Choosing a sprightly partner for 
a farewell strathspey, the stranger rises, and 
for twenty minutes the mischievous lasses ring 
out the Highland Fling at racing speed, until 
singers and dancers are alike exhausted. As 
he turns to his seat, he observes the mother of 
the bride, still fresh and handsome, just entering. 
Willing to make a last effort to please, he 
takes her hand and returns to the floor. Alas ! 
for appearances : the buxom dame dances with 
the foot of fifteen, fresh voices shake a wild 
strathspey through the curling smoke, and 
the stranger in his distress anathematizes alike 
his gallantry and good - nature. At last, thank 
heaven ! he is leading her to a seat, when a 


shout comes of " Here is another ! " " You must 
dance with this one too," and a bright-eyed 
dame, still stouter than the last, gives promise 
of still greater activity and endurance. She 
fulfils it too; and with shaking knees and 
bumping heart the stranger makes his adieux 
and stumbles out through the kine, hurrying 
off to dream of interminable rows of matrons 
of gradually increasing size and weight, whom 
he has to whirl round in an endless dance. 
And where do the others go ? Well ! truth is 
strange, and the truth is that, in this year 
of our Lord, the " bundling " system is still 
universal in the Lews, and most of the dancers 
take home their partners and court them in bed 
until morning ! 

In this place, we shall say a few words 
respecting this strange custom, which is too 
important and universal a habit among the 
people of the West to be passed over in silence 
or with a shrug. An intimate acquaintance 
with the people among whom we were so- 
journing enables us to assert that most of the 
unmarried young men pass the winter nights 


with their sweethearts. The want of light in 
most dwellings, the numbers of dark corners 
even in daylight, and the general habit among 
the people of throwing themselves down on the 
straw, simply divested of their outer garment, 
gives every facility for courtship in the 
Hebridean fashion. As the girls are, at the 
same time, " very kind," court assiduously, and 
are possessed of far greater energy than the 
men, they acquire a great hold on their affec- 
tions, and seriously influence those youths who 
might otherwise have enterprise enough to 
emigrate to the colonies and attempt to better 
their condition. 

Sincerely deprecating the wrath of any Island 
fair one, we assert that the girls not only 
work hard to support a husband when captured, 
but labour assiduously to obtain him. Not only 
in household matters, but in the labours of the 
field they never spare themselves, and may 
often be seen wielding the spade with energy, 
when the lazy worse-half does nothing but fill 
and empty his everlasting pipe. Surely nowhere 
more than in the Hebrides does Ruskin's 


statement hold good, that smoking is only a 
wretched excuse for idleness, enabling a man 
to do nothing without being ashamed of him- 

Thus courting and working, affectionate and 
good-tempered, never reproaching their lounging 
mates for idleness, but thankful when they exert 
themselves to procure a few fish, which the 
women willingly creel home, the Lews women 
do everything that women can to render their 
homes happy, and, let us add, are generally 
successful. Rarely does one hear of unfaithful 
wife or cruel husband : nay, we verily believe 
that a happier class of people, a people thinking 
less of to-morrow and enjoying themselves 
more to-day, does not exist. Illegitimacy in 
the country is so rare as to be merely nominal, 
while most married couples are eminently 
fruitful: the children are fat, intelligent, and 
frolicsome ; the men stout, hearty, and keen- 
witted ; their active good dames crowning a 
social edifice of health, peace, and contentment, 
though it be of the humblest. 

Considering all this, one turns away from 


the marriage-party of a Lews cotter without 
any unpleasant forebodings as to their future, 
concluding that if their "lot" is good, their 
lot is happy; and as we look round among 
the men and maids and consider their ways, 
we thank Providence that women may be fond 
and men affectionate to an extent of mutual 
confidence long expelled from the more civilised 
regions of the earth. 


nr^HERE has been a funeral in the village. 
"The best and truest man inside the road" 
has passed away, probably from want of medical 
advice, against which he was bigotedly pre- 
judiced; nor would he taste medicine that had 
come from a doctor. "They can give you stuff 
that will kill you in . a moment," he said, and 
put no trust in the Faculty. This part of the 
coast has the credit of being very healthy, and 
very seldom is the attentive physician resident at 
Stornoway called over to Carloway on business. 
The neighbouring populous clachan of Garnin 
has only been twice visited by the doctor in forty 
years — a visit made during our stay being the 
first in twenty years. 

But to the funeral. Down the hill in solemn 


procession comes the party, all showing true 
grief and impressive sobriety of manner. 

The coffin, of common deal, stained black, is 
fastened upon two old oars, and one of the large 
open fishing-boats swings on the beach, ready 
to receive the remains of him who has set his 
last long line amidst the Western waves, heard 
the keel grate for the last time on the pebbly 
shore. About forty friends, all stout fishermen, 
have met to convey the remains of their com- 
panion to his last home by the sounding sea, 
on the island of Little Bernera, where the fisher- 
men of the West all hope to rest. The sail 
once set, a smart breeze carries us across the 
Sound to the little sandy creek in close prox- 
imity to the graveyard of the island. As there is 
no proper landing-place, some of the men spring 
out on the rocks bordering the sandy beach, 
and hold the boat steady with ropes, while the 
remainder clamber ashore, and accompany the 
coffin up the rocky knolls to the cemetery. This 
is merely a little sandy patch closely packed 
with mounds, only two or three possessing a 
stone with the names of the occupants. Here a 


consultation takes place as to the proper place 
of burial ; and this agreed upon, spades are 
produced, and the friends around soon excavate 
a grave a few feet deep in the sand. The bitter 
November blast, that had often borne the dead 
to his labours on the deep, now shrieks the 
only requiem over his grave, and hurls the 
driving sleet in the faces of the mourners. A 
passionate burst of heartfelt grief breaks from 
the sons of the deceased as they lower the 
coffin to its place on the edge of the cliff over 
the sea. The grave is then filled up, the friends 
bear turfs from the neighbourhood and neatly 
cover the mound, a rude stone is placed at the 
head and foot, and we thoughtfully wander back 
from the little island cemetery, where the winds 
and the waves keep watch and ward over so 
many " toilers of the sea." 

No one has any distinct charge over the 
cemetery, but certain scarcely definable portions 
of the ground are understood to appertain to 
certain families. The deep feeling with which 
the fishermen pointed out some rugged mound 
as that over a beloved relative, showed how 


strongly affectionate was their Celtic nature ; 
and yet there is not a cemetery in the Lews 
worthy of the name, in which the slightest 
care is bestowed on the graves after inter- 
ment. The enclosure of rude stones here is 
very small, the sea having curtailed it, while 
it threatens still further to reduce it within a 
short period. 

On our way back to the boat we halted under 
the shelter of a rock, and were supplied by 
the friends with a glass of whisky and piece 
of biscuit, as the wind was strong, bitterly cold, 
and opposed to our rapid return. 

No clergyman whatever was present, and no 
ceremony took place, nor is it customary, so 
far as we understand. It is usual, however, to 
have prayer over the coffin, in presence of the 
female mourners, before leaving the house. 

The boat is again drawn close up to the 
slippery seaweed-grown rocks, and the party 
re-embark. They sit shivering with their 
heads drawn into their jackets, and pipes, lit 
under every disadvantage, in their teeth. Now 
and again they rouse themselves to shift the 


heavy sail as we tack the boat on our zigzag 
way across the Sound. Everything was con- 
ducted with propriety and sobriety, High- 
landers always displaying true good feeling on 
such occasions ; and as we jumped half-frozen 
on to the beach once more, we felt pleased 
to have joined in the last mark of respect to 
the kindly face that so often, creel on shoulder, 
had passed our door. 



T N certain rocky districts this is generally a 
most remunerative fishing to the Hebri- 
deans. It is prosecuted in stout boats of 15 or 
16 feet keel, carrying a lugsail, and costing 
the fishermen about ^15. The most successful, 
because most assiduous, bold, and energetic, 
followers of this branch of marine industry, are 
the inhabitants of the Island of Bernera, Loch 
Roag, whose boats may be seen beating up 
amid the dangerous islets at the mouth of Loch 
Roag in the most tempestuous weather. Each 
boat carries a crew of four men, supplied with 
from twelve to twenty lobster creels, which com- 
pletely occupy the boat, and give scant room for 
working, thereby much increasing the danger 
in rough weather. 


But our boat is swinging at anchor in 
Carloway "harbour," and as the sea is good 
and the wind favourable, we shall run down 
the rugged, dangerous, rocky coast beset with 
sunken " boes," and see what Neptune will 
send us to-day. The creels are shipped under 
the thwarts, about the bow, in every conceivable 
part of the available space ; the mast is stepped, 
and, as the sail is set, we slide round the rocky 
point, and are soon running out the well- 
sheltered inlet known as Carloway Loch. 

As we approach the mouth, a halt is made 
to raise the spiller line set overnight, in order 
to secure bait for the creels. Anxiously hook 
after hook is watched as the line comes in hand- 
over-hand, with an occasional gurnard or 
flounder to repay hours of trying labour. 

Sufficient bait is now secured for the day's 
fishing, sail is again set, and we glide past the 
" bo " at the entrance, and so through the Sound 
of Cragum — that sound through which the sea 
seems always rushing like a mill-race, and 
where so many stiff pulls on a lee shore, 
against wind and tide in trying weather, have 


tested alike our muscles, our endurance, and 
our tempers. But we leave these adjacent 
grounds for fishing in rough weather, and our 
boat dances merrily past the Raven's Cliff, the 
Rock of Scarts, and the many other beetling 
precipices and breaker-haunted " boes " that 
fringe this savage coast. At length we reach 
the entrance of the open, unprotected sea loch 
of Garnin, having baited our traps on the way 
by fixing half a flounder or a gurnard in the 
centre of the trap, so as to swing in an enticing 
manner in the haunts of the aristocratic Mr. 

The boat is now brought as close as possible 
to the rocks by the aid of the oars, and a spot 
chosen where a forest of thick-stemmed tangle 
waves its broad leaves to the rocking of the sea. 
The trap is lowered by a stout cord about fifteen 
fathoms long, supplied with pieces of cork at 
intervals of four or five feet along its whole 
length, so as to keep it clear of the seaweed, 
and a large cork buoy at the end with some 
distinguishing mark, so as to be readily recog- 
nised amid the ever-tumbling Hebridean sea. 


Care must be taken to watch the state of the 
tide, so that the creel may be reached at all 
times. The very nature of the occupation directs 
the fishermen to the most dangerous localities, 
where, in the event of a heavy sea, which may 
get up at any moment, it is a matter attended 
with great peril to lift the creels, brought still 
closer to the breakers at low water. But our 
creels are gradually extending round the loch, 
one after the other dropping among the inhabi- 
tants of the submarine flora, like a cage through 
a skylight, leaving us at liberty to pass a short 
time as we please until their cautious and highly 
sensitive lordships have time to examine their 

Here, close by us, is one of those extensive 
caves hewn out by the ever-toiling sea in the 
gneiss cliffs, and colonised by myriads of blue 
rock - pigeons — the strongest, swiftest, most 
active, and, let us add, most beautifully marked 
of the British Columbidae. The clip, clip of 
their wings is ever sounding in our ears as we 
lie on our oars beneath the cliffs, and occa- 
sionally send a shot among them as a larger 


flock sweeps past at racing speed and dis- 
appears up the dark entrance. Ever-watchful 
sentinels are posted on the adjoining rocks to 
give notice of the approach of suspicious cha- 
racters, and the whole community gives one 
the notion of a vigorous, sustained, regulated 
animal life. No ordinary attack will deprive 
them of their lives, as often they fly to a great 
distance with wounds severe beyond description. 
What has come over the blue beauties ? How 
silently they drop from their stations and skim 
along in hot haste, close to the water, towards 
the nearest rocky shelter ! See that flock, borne 
on the wings of fear, pass by us like the wind. 
" Coming events cast their shadows before," 
and the taper wings of the bold blue hawk — the 
peregrine falcon — cast their ominous shade from 
cliff to wave and wave to cliff. Now floating in 
circles — now chasing, with silent, pertinacious 
speed, that unlucky little scapegrace from cliff 
to sky, from sky to wave, skimming round every 
projecting rock, or shooting suddenly aloft, the 
victim finds the dread tyrant, with claws clasp- 
ing in anticipation, outstretched beak, and 


eager, bloodshot eye, ever following with that 
steady tenacity of will and unflinching ferocity 
that does more to keep the tyrant " lord " than 
strength of talon or speed of wing. Panting 
more with fear than hot haste, subdued more 
by terror than overmatched in strength of wing, 
under the shadow of the projecting cliff the 
victim crouches with half-closed anticipatory 
eye, and in a moment is borne aloft in the 
clutches of the foe. 

Above us, on those rocky shelves, sit the 
cormorant and green shag in pairs, their long 
backs towards us, while their heads are twisted 
round in careful attention. Back the boat 
quietly till we get a shot ; fresh meat is scarce 
among Hebrideans, and, when skinned, the 
" skart " is a most welcome titbit, the fishy 
taste being withdrawn with the oily covering, 
leaves a good-sized body to the consideration 
of a native fisherman's boisterous appetite. 

Hist ! what is that, Anish, sitting on the rock 
smoothing its whiskers like a rufous cat ? An 
otter ! an otter ! Now quietly ! Alas, a lobster 
buoy-rope stays the boat, and we only get a 


random shot as it trots up the shelving rock to 
the inner shelter of the cave. 

One of these rocky caves fell in two years ago 
on a quiet day here, the roar being heard as far 
as Briersclit, ten miles off. The boats at sea 
were so startled by the sound that they had 
imminent fears for their beloved Lews, while the 
spray dashed over the tops of the cliffs. These 
landslips occur very frequently in the spring, 
and the whole west coast is being gradually 
undermined by the action of the sea. When 
they happen at night, according to the boatmen, 
it is very grand — a great display of fire and 
volumes of smoke, from the friction of the rocks, 
rising above the seething waters. 

But it is time to return to our lobsters, so we 
shall leave the stolid-looking skarts for a time, 
and make an inspection of the traps. The tide 
is much lower, and the tangle-leaves are waving 
where the white breakers lately dashed. We 
must back the boat in carefully, and keep a 
sharp look-out for unexpected rocks, for the sea 
is a treacherous friend in the West. As buoy 
after buoy is caught by a hooked stick, and the 


heavy creels are pulled up, eager eyes are cast 
at them to see what may prove to be the 
contents. The interest taken in the high-priced, 
high-coloured lobster, with its formidable 
weapons, one snap of which will draw blood ; 
the contempt expressed for the comparatively 
valueless crabs, and the wonder constantly 
evoked as to how they could crush their broad 
backs through the strong iron rings much 
narrower than themselves ; the mirth provoked 
at the expense of the skipper, as the active 
lobster, snapping its tail, springs from end to 
end of the creel, are constant sources of amuse- 
ment. Strange and interesting objects, too, are 
drawn up from the beds of thick brown tangle. 
Through this the minor sea-savages roam, or in 
its midst they lurk in search of prey. Here, 
curled round the rope, comes a sea-serpent, as 
the fishermen call the members of the harmless 
Syngnathidse, those marine marsupials com- 
bining the form of the snake with the maternal 
characteristics of the kangaroo. There is a huge 
star-fish, with its thousand brilliant mouths, 
sucking diligently at the flapping flounder. 


This still exhibits signs of life, although taken 
on the hook two days ago, its nose and tail cut 
off, its body slit half across on each side, and thus 
fixed on the horizontal string. Now a large tangle 
is drawn to the surface, bringing with it a piece 
of the ocean bottom, round which its roots are 
clinging. Over this numerous minute Crustacea 
are running to and fro, delicate acalephse are 
clinging in the hollows, and marine architects 
have covered it with buildings, formed from 
materials brought by the sea itself for the use of 
its diligent inhabitants ; then greedy molluscs, 
huge-headed cotti, or perhaps a savage conger, 
or even a daring cormorant descending from the 
regions of air has plunged to a hopeless death in 
that element, where it is almost equally at home. 
What are you laughing at ? Lift the creel in 
quick, and take your oar ; don't you see we are 
almost on the spray-girt rocks ! In comes the 
creel, and a strong effort shoots the heavy boat 
out of immediate danger, and gives us liberty to 
examine the inhabitants, crouched one in each 
corner, with others clinging absurdly to the 
netting — huge crabs every one of them, dis- 


gusted with life and with one another, looking 
intolerably stupid and ashamed of themselves 
for being so " taken in." Not one of the lot is 
small enough to force at any angle through the 
hole it had entered at ! Cork after cork comes 
slowly in as the last creel approaches the top 
of the water. What an eager plunge ! " I have 
him ! " shouts Anish, as he raises his delighted 
face and displays a mighty lobster, his great 
nippers hanging like the helpless fists of a 
ploughboy on his way to church. Unable to 
crush even one of his immense claws through 
the doorway, he has clung to the outside of the 
netting, ceaselessly endeavouring to force one 
nipper through. We gaze with interest on the 
" bloated aristocrat," who has hitherto been 
insured his crusty existence through the success 
of his aggrandising policy. Sever the muscle 
of his formidable nippers, and carefully wrap 
him in an oilskin, to keep the wind from his 
tender majesty! Lobsters have, to be taken 
great care of, as they yield at once either to 
a cold wind, a fresh shower, or a frost. They 
are pugilistic, and must never be allowed to 


combat with a neighbour, as both may lose 
their claws. One of the swiftest inhabitants of 
the deep, it must be carefully and rapidly 
secured. The bait requires to be good and 
well placed, as they can otherwise withdraw it 
cleverly without entering at all ; or if the doors 
are not made carefully they can find their way 
out as well as in. 

Once more the creels are all on board, the 
mast again stepped, and as November nights 
are long, and the wind is low, we must hurry 
from this inhospitable shore ere darkness come 
down upon us. The Bernera boats are return- 
ing home in hot haste all along the coast 
northward, from seaward as far as the rocky 
island called the " Old Man Mountain," and 
from every islet that thrusts its dusky head 
through the tangle beds of old ocean. Slowly 
we force our way through the water, amid the 
black, treacherous-looking rocks that fringe the 
coast ; but ere long we are flying, close-reefed, 
through the Sound of Cragum, thanking our 
stars that we trusted not the wind, now rapidly 
rising with the falling night. 


What with small lines and long lines always 
set for bait — creels constantly shifted with the 
shifting weather, from sea-exposed rocks to 
calmer inland bays — early afoot, so as to be 
first on the ground — out late, so as to watch 
their property — ready in a moment to row for 
dear life, or sit calmly by the rudder in the 
straining boat before the hissing wind— the life 
of a lobster crew in the West is no child's play, 
but to claim success must be formed of able 
boatmen and resolute men. 


\T 7HAT a glorious stretch for a donkey 
gallop ! How Londoners out for a 
holiday would revel on such a magnificent 
expanse of the purest sand ! 

Broad Bay, the El Dorado of Lews fisher- 
men, is at our feet, rolling in with every wave 
myriads of shells of brilliant colours, whose 
defunct ancestors, in all stages of disintegra- 
tion, form the beach for some feet deep beside 
us. Many waggon-loads of the little beauties 
are lying piled up among the sandy dunes, to 
be burned down for lime. They have a " higher 
destiny " than their friends on the beach ; like 
a country boy on his way to town, to be ground 
into mortar for the social edifice of city life. 
We prefer them where Nature flung them in 


such rich profusion, after handing over their 
late owners to the tender mercies of the famous 
Broad Bay flounder. 

The extensive sand dunes close by are almost 
entirely composed of such disintegrated shells. 
Upon them the bent grows luxuriantly, and 
crawling all over them may be seen the bearers 
of little land shells (Helix) of delicate structure 
and varied colouring. 

In the season this district produces a large 
crop of mushrooms, whose value is well under- 
stood by a few discriminating immigrants. The 
otherwise omnivorous natives, however, look 
upon them with horror and disgust. 

To the right of the bay stretches the hilly 
peninsula of Aird — a narrow neck of deep bog- 
land dividing Broad Bay from the Stornoway 
waters. Here, on the side towards Stornoway 
Bay, the remains of an extensive wood may 
be seen at low ebb tides. The cotters have 
been in the habit of repairing thither, at such 
times, for the roots of trees for firewood, and 
a friend exhibited a hazel nut procured from 
the same locality. This, along with various 


other indications, seems to point to a gradual 
sinking of the land. 

Nowhere, so far as we could learn, are trees 
found of any large growth, but like the bit of 
natural wood still remaining on the Lochs dis- 
trict, merely a larger species of brushwood. 

A deposit of fine clay on this peninsula is 
worked for tiles, and is of so good a quality 
that vases and figures of superior excellence, 
both as regards design and workmanship, have 
been produced by the accomplished manager. 

Close by, on the summit of a hill, are the 
remains of an extensive stone circle ; and on 
an opposite hill, about a mile off, another 
known as the "Little Stones," of which only 
one large stone remains standing. 

Alongside the shore of Broad Bay, the waters 
of which have already carried away a portion 
of the ancient graveyard, strewing the beach 
with human bones, stands the ruined church 
of Knock. The graveyard is still in use, but 
is covered all over with the densest vegetation, 
breast high. There is no enclosure, and, 
although apparently the most aristocratic burial- 


place ' in the Lews, is utterly disregarded. The 
stranger may stumble over broken capitals into 
the doorless church, and there find massive 
monuments concealed beneath a rank vegetable 
growth. We cleared away a mass of weeds 
from one corner, that we might view the monu- 
ment said to cover the last; of the Macleods. 
No inscription whatever could be found about 
the kilted figure in a pointed helmet, with 
cross-hilted sword and dagger, that commemo- 
rated the last of a race whose star had fallen. 

There were monuments of beauty and value, 
but what desolation ! Is it from the struggle 
for subsistence concentrating their whole ener- 
gies upon themselves, that the Lewsmen can 
spare no care for the dead ? Or does it arise 
from sheer laziness and carelessness, and 
account for their terror of the " spirits," whose 
former habitations they treat with such neglect r 
If they care nothing for the " tenement of clay/' 
after the spirit has fled, let them raise no visible 
records of contempt ! 

As we turn from the unsatisfactory survey, 
our ears are lulled by the " rock " of the waves, 



and our eyes freshened by the rolling bay. A 
noble bay, indeed, it is, and one on which the 
gazer can never tire to look, whether dwelling 
on the innumerable gifts of ocean spread along 
at his feet, or raising the eyes to the broader 
aspects of nature on sea and shore. 

Skirting the coast northward, at one corner 
of the bay is the pool of Tongue, where the 
river of the same name enters. Near this is 
the tract of Tussock grass, acclimatized from 
the Falkland Isles, which seems to have found 
a congenial home. We will hurry over the 
sands, and skirt the coast-line, until we reach 
another point of interest and beauty. 

About eight miles north from Stornoway, 
finely situated amid undulating downs, lie the 
farmhouse and shooting-lodge of Gress. It 
is acknowledged to be one of the loveliest 
spots on the island, lying, as it does, on the 
finest bay on the coast, and commanding 
pleasant prospects both seaward and landward 
from its cheerful green- fringed garden. 

On the shore close by is the fishing-station 
of Gress, giving life and animation to the 


neighbourhood, and studding the waters with 
dancing boats, from the small cod and ling 
or stout herring-boat, to the more important- 
looking smack. 

This place is interesting on several accounts, 
besides its own intrinsic beauty of situation 
and fertility, amid the omnipresent moor. 

On the shore below the shooting-lodge, the 
entrance to a primitive subterranean dwelling 
has been recently discovered by Mr. Liddell, 
the tenant of Gress farm, who takes a keen 
interest in all antiquarian subjects. This has 
been followed up to a certain extent, and found 
to lead under the green before the house, but 
the bulging in of the rude stone walls renders 
further progress dangerous, if not impossible. 
Its form seems to have been the customary 
one with such dwellings. A very small entrance 
leads to a vestibule, and a short way up the 
narrow passage two small recesses in the walls 
were evidently made to allow of two passing. 
Some ten or twelve yards beyond these, the roof 
suddenly showed an open ascending space, as 
if a chimney had been built. This might have 


been another entrance, a stone laid across the 
top closing it up, as the ground beneath was 
beaten hard, as by the feet of those leaping 
down. Upon clearing away the sand, with 
which it was silted up by the force of the wind 
and sea driving it from the beach, a layer of 
dark-coloured slimy matter, intermingled with 
bones and other remains, appeared. Some 
depth beneath this a fine layer of white sand, 
such as is not seen immediately about, seems 
to have been spread as a carpet. Upon and 
among this the most ancient remains were 
found, honeycombed bones split to extract the 
marrow, with the rude marks upon them where 
they had been struck for this purpose. They 
were principally bones of sheep and deer, of 
a small species, as would naturally be the case 
with progenitors of the present native breeds. 
The tusk of a wild boar also showed up, and 
many shells of the " roaring bucky," still sticky 
with oil, from having been used as lamps, as 
at the present day in Zetland. We could not 
find among the natives any who knew of the 
employment of this shell in such a way in 


recent times, although up to a very recent 
date shells of various species played an im- 
portant part among the domestic utensils of 
the Lews. 

No cutting instruments, so far as we could 
see, had been found, nor flint implements of 
any kind. An old quern found was not among 
the more ancient remains. The only other 
stone showing signs of manipulation was a 
circular flat stone like a discus, that had 
evidently been chipped into a more perfect 
form : its use was not apparent. As flint is 
thrown ashore in considerable quantities by 
the sea, the total absence of implements of this, 
or indeed any other article, seems strange. The 
height of the interior passage must have been 
considerable, as it enabled an ordinary-sized 
man to walk almost erect, when the sand had 
been cleared away. Originally it would have 
been much wider than at present, since the 
bulging in of the sides has narrowed it. 

Of remains of a presumably later date there is 
a specimen in a ruined dune, of large size, on 
the top of a hill two or three miles inland. 


This tower would have commanded a view of 
the Minch and a great tract of moorland. It 
had been built of very large unhewn stones, 
and as usual with such erections showed no 
signs of lime. 

About a mile along the shore from Gress is a 
fine specimen of a trap dyke running through 
the conglomerate, and entering Broad Bay, 
showing again on the other side the bay near 
Garabost. The sea has ground out the con- 
glomerate from one side of the dyke, forming 
one of the innumerable caves along the coast. 
The trap stands up like a huge black wall 
of great width and height direct from the sea 
on one side, the other being connected with the 
curving coast-line. It is the finest example we 
have seen. 

Still continuing along the coast, the land 
traveller is directed to a huge cave hollowed 
out of the conglomerate. This is an enormous 
excavation, dry at low water, but into which the 
sea soon returns to continue its vigorous mining 
labours. It presents a huge cavernous aspect 
from the sea, as the roof slopes gradually back 


until at the further end it meets the gravelly 
floor at a sharp angle. Close by is a broad 
natural bridge, also of conglomerate, through 
which the sea sweeps at high water. Indeed, 
the freaks of these energetic Hebridean waves 
seem almost inexhaustible. 

A short way along the coast, about a mile 
from the station of Gress, the celebrated seal 
cave runs into the conglomerate for two 
hundred yards or more. 

This cave is formed in quite the opposite 
manner from the opening near the great trap 
dyke, for in place of the pudding-stone being 
washed away, here a large trap dyke has been 
cut away straight into the land. This has left 
a beautifully clear-cut sea-cave the whole width 
of the dyke for sixty yards from the entrance, 
thence it is so narrow that only the very 
smallest boat can proceed farther. Some way 
in it again widens into the furthest cave, which 
is high and roomy, with a gravel beach on 
one side. 

The water is deep and clear, the rocky sides 
cut straight as walls, and studded under water 


with many large sea-urchins. It is a favourite 
resort of seals, and one rose with a splash 
close by our boat, retreating into the further 
recesses of the cave, where we were unable 
to follow. 

Altogether it is one of the finest and most 
beautiful sea-caves to be seen, and although 
not so imposing outside, is, in our idea, a much 
more imagination-stirring and weird-like cavern 
than the more celebrated cave of Staffa. No 
one visiting Stornoway should ever leave with- 
out seeing this great natural curiosity, when 
a few hours is sufficient to bring before the 
bodily eye as charming a haunt of sea-nymphs 
as ever startled the brain of a poet into dreamy 

The road is continued past Gress, and ascends 
a long sloping hill ; from the top a fine view can 
be had over the Bay and across the Point of 
Aird to Stornoway Bay. The bold hills of 
Harris bound the view towards the south, and 
beneath us a long, sweeping, undulating green 
land repays the labours of the husbandman. 
The soil is greatly composed of that valuable 


shell sand which, under judicious management, 
becomes so fertile. It has a fish-furnishing, 
friendly, fertile sea alongside, such as is of rare 
occurrence in the Lews ; and the general im- 
pression left on the mind, after a survey from 
the highest point of the road, is that of a 
pleasant, open, cheerful, green, breezy land of 
milk and porridge, if not of milk and honey. 

Gress itself lies snugly at the foot of the 
slope, and shows signs of steady and continuous 
improvement ; but, as usual in the Lews, 
wherever the vicinity of a homestead shows 
money expended, it is the money of the tenant. 

Still on the way to Tolsta, we descend the 
northern side of the hilly road and reach a fine 
valley running down to the sea, containing a 
little community of cotters. After a long 
ascent we reach the village of Tolsta, occupied 
by a mixed community of fishers and cotters, 
although situated at a considerable elevation 
over the sea. A steep road, a mile or two in 
length, leads to the station. The road con- 
tinues on to a farmhouse, about a mile past 
the clachan, occupied by a hearty Yorkshire- 


man. It is an agreeable situation, although 
terribly secluded, with undulating green fields 
down to the rocky seaboard, and rolling hills 
closing in the scene. Even in the opinion of 
its Southern tenant, it only requires a good 
sprinkling of plantations to be delightful. The 
view is cheerful, and enlivened by numerous 
sails that dot the neighbouring sea; but the 
place has no shelter from the gales, which 
sweep away everything, except the cobwebs 
of centuries that conceal the value, and hamper 
the activity, of the native mind. 

A rocking-stone is poised on the top of a hill 
about a mile off. Although estimated to weigh 
thirty tons, it is said to be moved with ease. 

On the way back to Stornoway we pass 
Coll, a farmhouse amid rolling sandy pastures 
sweeping down to the sea. It is placed on 
a little rising ground between two pleasant 
valleys, and commands a lively smiling prospect 
both landward and seaward. 


T F the Lews may be said to be pre-eminent 
"■" in anything besides peat and ponds, let us 
give it the palm for getting up a big wind on 
the shortest possible notice : while to feel this 
wind to the utmost possible advantage, or 
disadvantage, go to Ness. 

The district of Ness is a great plain extending 
from the Butt of Lews down to Barvas, without 
any elevations of consequence. This gives free 
scope for every wind to dance over its surface, 
striking a cold chill into strangers and energy 
into the aborigines, and rendering it in 
winter de facto a howling desert. " Uninhabi- 
table," would be the verdict of any one brought 
to view the suitability of such a wretched tract 
for the habitation of workers either on sea or 


land. Not a sign of a natural harbour even 
for boats, vicious waves hissing and sputtering 
at the surly cliffs, whose rocky sharpshooters 
are thrown out to meet them ; the bullying wind 
in its restless ferocity ever stirring up strife 
between them. Meeting the wild Atlantic as 
it hurls its mighty flood into the stormy Minch, 
the rugged Butt of Lews thrusts boldly forward 
its stubborn front, and like the Highlander who 
fought so manfully for a crooked sixpence, 
defends courageously its bleak expanse. 

And yet this inhospitable-looking tract may 
be said to be the most prosperous out of 
Stornoway. About two miles from the Butt 
towards the East is the fishing-station known 
as "The Port" of Ness. It consists of an 
opening in the rocks a few yards wide, up 
from which a pavement has been laid by the 
laird to enable the fishermen to draw up their 
boats. This is all their harbour. Out of it 
no boat can be launched, even on the calmest 
day, without the men pushing them out up to 
their waists in water; remaining in this wet 
condition during the whole time at sea, which 

NESS. 125 

is often prolonged for two days. On returning, 
they are again obliged to leap into the water, 
to remove mast, oars, and ballast, and then, 
after a hard day at sea, pull their boats high 
and dry up the paved beach. The severity of 
this labour is very great, and the men are said 
to age rapidly under it. When at sea these 
men often spread raw cod -livers on their 
bannocks, and at all times consume a great 
quantity of livers. This doubtless assists them 
to endure long exposure in wet clothes : the oil 
alike supplying heat to the system and lubri- 
cating the lungs so as to secure them against 

Above the Port, on the top of the cliffs, the 
fishing-station, curing-houses, &c., are built ; 
and from this point the main road leads off to 
Stornoway. Along this, for three miles from 
the Port, stretches a continuous line of huts, 
without a break, mostly placed well back from 
the road, with the household peat-stack between. 
Then to Skegersta on the one side and Lionel 
on the other, two roads, to right and left of the 
main, are likewise lined with evidences of the 


possibility of a numerous population drawing 
nourishment from this hopeless-looking domain. 
Whence this numerous body of people draw 
subsistence appears, at first, a difficult problem ; 
until we find that their fishing-boats are very- 
numerous, that they have enterprise to purchase 
them from the curers, energy to fish under the 
most adverse circumstances, pluck to go to sea 
in weather such as the Western fisherman would 
not face, and sufficient skill as boatmen to bring 
them bravely through it. In the current sweep- 
ing round the Butt, the ling and cod are found 
to be both numerous and good, and but for the 
severity of the weather would well repay the 
fishermen's labour. Even with all disadvantages 
the Nessmen generally show a good average 
fishing per boat — say three thousand ling. Be- 
sides the money value of these to be obtained 
from the merchant, they are allowed to take so 
many cod home to their families; while the 
heads, the skate, dogfish, and fish-roes, contri- 
bute to the sustenance of the household. The 
bones provide titbits for their ponies and cattle, 
the livers light their dwellings and supply occa- 

NESS. 127 

sional " cod-puddings," and the garbage is 
carefully removed to make a compost for their 

Thus a successful fishing is a valuable source 
of profit to the community ; and a winter free 
from gales, especially easterly gales, which force 
the men to abide on shore, is looked forward to 
with anxious hope. 

A good fishing will give each man from £ 1 5 
to £20, besides otherwise benefiting the house- 
keeping. This, added to what is gained at the 
Wick fishing, with the assistance of meal and 
potatoes raised on their little lots, is amply suf- 
ficient for the simple wants of a Lewsman. 

The soil is a rich loam, and raises capital 
crops with the help of seaware and fish-garbage ; 
but the harvest, dependent upon the weather, is 
very uncertain. 

But it is ridiculous to suppose that the 
fisheries, as at present conducted, are alone 
capable of supporting such a large and rapidly 
increasing population. Besides, the people will 
not emigrate, as they declare themselves unwill- 
ing to leave their friends so long as they are 


happy and able to support themselves. The feel- 
ing of the majority of the people was plainly stated 
on the occasion of a late meeting to promote 
emigration to New Zealand, when a native arose 
and stated, that if the laird gave the land in 
lots to the people in place of to the sheep, there 
would be no necessity for emigration. A large 
body of cotters inhabiting several clachans were 
exported en masse to America some time ago, 
but still in this parish there is an increase of 
several hundred since the former census. 

This is a question we have touched upon 
elsewhere, but it is here pertinent to ask cui 
bono? as to this emigration. One can under- 
stand the Duke of Sutherland depopulating a 
region for his own convenience or the cotters' 
social progress, but to send away a handful of 
people who will be immediately more than 
replaced by the natural increase does not seem 
a very masterly proceeding. If the vast body 
of human beings, over whom a purchasing pro- 
prietor assumes a serious responsibility, are 
willing to remain and make the most of their 
native land, it is his sacred duty to enable 

NESS. 129 

them to do so as far as lies in his power. To 
give them sufficient tracts of land to support 
their families, for their own happiness and the 
good of the State, — to endeavour to open up 
whatever resources his property may possess, — 
and to lease portions of his waste lands to such 
cotters as are willing to improve them, — is as 
much a moral obligation as furthering the edu- 
cation and social prosperity of those to whom 
he owes a great part of his income. To export 
several hundreds out of a country population of 
twenty thousand, and endeavour, by starvation 
on small crops, to force the remainder to follow 
their example, is too paltry a policy to be cha- 
racterized as a policy at all. When a capitalist 
leaves money-making, and assumes the respon- 
sibilities of a landed proprietor, a large interest 
on money invested ought distinctly to become a 
secondary consideration, subservient to the wel- 
fare of his dependants, seeing he has voluntarily 
assumed their management. 

No one can view without astonishment those 
long ranges of miserable dwellings, with their 
happy inmates, and those ranges of peat-stacks, 



representing many a gathering of neighbours to 
the cutting, and many a " caley " over the con- 
suming in the long winter nights. When the 
simple elements of this happiness are consi- 
dered, the natural verdict follows — " man wants 
but little here below," excepting that " content- 
ment which is great gain." 

Let us step over this bank of turf and endea- 
vour to see outside of this row of huts, often 
two deep. It stretches on thus down to the 
Port ; but now we are outside we can see 
about us. 

Towards the north — why do you start ? it is 
only a few hundred blue pigeons rushing past 
with their tireless flight, and blue and white 
plumage dancing in the sun — to the north you 
see the lighthouse standing on the edge of the 
cliff, and blinking at Cape Wrath across the 
Minch. It is a steady, respectable light, with 
no particular enemies except the neighbouring 
cave-dwelling starlings, that are caught in great 
numbers by horsehair nooses fixed around it. 
On revolving lights birds of all kinds are de- 
stroyed by driving against the glass, but a 

NESS. 131 

steady light does not allure them to destruc- 
tion, but gives notice in advance. To the west 
may be seen the famous hole in the rock to 
which the celebrated hawser was fixed that 
dragged the Lews from Europe, and thereby 
hangs a tale. The white patch in the dark 
rock, caused by the sea breaking through it, 
may be plainly seen from the road. Between 
the lighthouse and this hawser-hole stretch the 
rocky cliffs of the Butt — veterans scarred and 
disfigured in many a battle with the raging 
restless foe beneath. 

Pigs ! we exclaimed, as a grumph was heard 
from an animal rarely seen in the West. Yes, 
pigs ! Ness has gone into pigs greatly of late ; 
upwards of two hundred were exported this 
year, and a trade in this species of live-stock is 
quickly springing up. So the Highland dislike 
to the unclean animal, so common here, is 
giving way before the conclusive arguments of 
remunerative prices. 

The men one sees about the Port are tall, 
big-boned, and powerful ; the women buxom, 
stout, and hearty; the children numerous and 


active. But there is an unmistakable difference 
between this fair-haired race and the population 
of the West. They are taller, but not so stout ; 
the women not so pleasant -looking, nor the 
children so bright-eyed and quick. 

Let us enter the handsome schoolroom lately 
erected by the laird, and examine the state of 
mind and body of the scholars. We find about 
eighty boys and girls assembled, of all sizes 
and ages ; some few cleanly dressed, and some 
six or eight who can read tolerably and cipher 
passably. Their teacher can at least speak 
English, an accomplishment few of the other 
teachers in the Lews seem to have acquired. 
But the education received is truly of the most 
elementary description, and, so far as we could 
see, the bulk of those present would never be 
reasonably well acquainted with the three R's 
under the present system. How could this be 
otherwise, when many have to come a good 
way to school, and any excuse is sufficient to 
detain them at home ? Then when spring 
comes they are kept away to work in the 
fields, and help the females at their various 

NESS. 133 

labours, or the men in their preparations for 
sea. During the summer the visiting clergyman 
finds sometimes only two or three, and on one 
occasion, with a great effort, five were brought 
together to meet him. So with a very good 
schoolroom, and houses accompanying for resi- 
dent master and mistress, the education dis- 
seminated therefrom is a mere farce. The Edu- 
cation Act has startled them, however, since we 
were there. 

Standing on the rocky cliff called the Butt of 
Lews, overlooking the wide expanse of ever- 
shifting sea dashing its spray to our feet, all 
around skim the stout skiffs, manned each by 
six boatmen, in search of the precarious "el 
Dorado " which so often fails its most assiduous 
courtiers. Howl as you please, bully as you 
please, but yield us up your treasures ! — and 
from Cape Wrath or the Skerries, to the far 
western banks, the deep must yield up its 
riches to the ceaseless assault. Five thousand 
souls, slumbering under the roots of the barley, 
wake every morning and turn to the east as 
anxiously as Parsee to the rising of the sun — 


as seriously as Mohammedan towards the tomb 
of the prophet. How is the wind ? That mo- 
mentous question, to those who go to sea in 
open boats, is on every lip, and an Argus-eyed 
meteorological society watches every swirl in 
the sky. 

On the rocks beneath us the pigeons are 
flitting to and fro in ceaseless activity, and an 
occasional cormorant or green shag springs 
from an overhanging cliff headlong into the 
deep. The gulls are skimming around us with 
suspicious rolling eye and irritating screech, or, 
gathered in a squalling, fluttering crowd, fight 
over some stranded titbit ; while the sea now 
creeps like a treacherous tiger and laps the base 
of the cliffs, now springs with half-muttered 
growl to the weather-beaten summit. 


T TPWARDS of thirty miles from Stornoway, 
~' by Garynahine, lies the district of Uige. 
Although so much farther off than Shawbost 
or Carloway, it is nevertheless much nearer, so 
far as facilities for communication and elements 
of civilisation are concerned. Indeed, it is 
rather amusing to observe the airs of conscious 
superiority assumed by the people of this part, 
in their intercourse with the " barbarians " to 
the north of Garynahine. 

A well-laden fishing-boat bound for Valtas 
is rocking on the beach at Loch Carloway ; let 
us step on board and cross over on a visit to 
this famous district, by general acknowledg- 
ment the most picturesque in the Lews. 
The stout boat before the stiff breeze soon 


enters the narrow sound between the islands 
of Great and Little Bernera, on the latter of 
which at one time stood a chapel of the 
" black ladies," or nuns. As we proceed to the 
narrowest part between abrupt cliffs, with just 
room enough to enable a good boat to pass, 
under our keel may be observed extensive beds 
of Zostera marina, covering that portion of the 
sound bottom that lies opposite the snug, half- 
concealed, little farmhouse of the kindly " King 
of Bernera." 

On emerging from the sound, fine sandy 
beaches lie on either side, on which the sea 
rolls heavily, carrying with it numberless habi- 
tations of the various molluscs that entice so 
great a variety of fishes to the neighbourhood. 
In front a circle of rocky islets, mostly white 
with the dashing spray, seems to prevent our 
further progress. Slipping through between 
two of them, however, we are soon crossing 
the other branch of Loch Roag that separates 
Bernera from Uige. Rapidly approaching the 
western side of the sound, we turn south and 
run down the shore of Pabba Island, a great 

UIGE. 137 

resort of wild geese. With difficulty we double 
the southern point of the island, and run into 
the little roadstead of Valtas. 

On arrival one is struck with the apparent 
fact that in this populous district there are 
plenty of men but no habitations. But when 
the eyes can be withdrawn from the magnifi- 
cent sandy beaches stretching all around, and 
the neighbourhood carefully scanned for signs 
of human dwelling-places, a few can be with 
difficulty distinguished from the surrounding 
hillocks, amid which they are cast higgledy 
piggledy. Now we have scrambled ashore, 
over the slippery seaweed, and are stumbling 
up the sharp rocks, rendered still more 
dangerous by the still sharper shells of the 
limpets and barnacles, and, at length, are follow- 
ing our guide to the primitive dwelling, sunk 
somewhere amid the rocky knolls. 

The impression given is, that no one could 
be seen for a hundred yards in a straight line 
anywhere in Uige. It is all " heighs and hows," 
up hill and down dale, and as few would care 
to build on the top of a hill in this gusty land, 


the dwellings are necessarily unobservable until 
you are close upon them. In nothing, however, 
do they differ from those in other parts of the 
island, except that more of them have rooms 
completely divided from the cattle by a wooden 
or stone partition. This shows that the people 
are more prosperous as a rule, of which there 
is no question. 

The close proximity of this district to the 
fishing-grounds enables the men to take instant 
advantage of good weather in the winter, when 
the fish also approach nearer the shore. At 
the same time, as the fish always come from 
the west, the fishermen here procure the first 
attack on the shoals of fish — a very great advan- 
tage, and one obtained without the severe labour 
necessary to those who have to cross from 

Added to this, the blessed sands entice 
myriads of flat-fish to their vicinity, and, as 
it were, place in the hands of the fisTiermen 
the best bait for ling, seeing the smallest boats 
at any season can readily set spillers in pro- 
ductive fishing-grounds. 

UIGE. 139 

This never-failing supply of bait for all kinds 
of fishing, the incitement to exertion of resident 
native curers who will not supply boats to lazy 
or unskilled fishermen, and the ready access 
to the fishing-grounds, soon tell in the large 
takes of fish ; bringing comfort to the fisher 
families, habits of industry to the men, who 
find their activity rewarded, and a general 
brisk energy not to be found in the less fortu- 
nate districts. 

A good many small tenant farmers add to 
the prosperity and activity of the place, and 
cause the small storekeepers to be in better 
circumstances, and more enterprising ; while a 
regular postal service once a week to Storno- 
way, and the continued passage to and fro of 
merchandise, bring the people into more direct 
contact with civilisation than those dwelling 
in the less prosperous villages northward. 

Besides these fishing facilities and good 
pasturage for sheep, Uige possesses more 
natural features of interest than any other 
portion of the Lews. Its splendid sandy 
beaches, stretching along the coast for great 


distances together, have already been men- 
tioned, and are naturally the most prominent 
objects to one arriving by sea. The bold bluff 
of Gallon Head towards the north-west is a 
point worth visiting, breasting the Atlantic, as 
the Butt does towards the north. From this 
a splendid vista of sea-beaten coast is visible 
on either side ; while seawards the Flannan 
Isles, or Seven Hunters, seem just beside us, 
and the more distant island of St. Kilda is 
distinctly seen, sitting solitary in the watery 

North from Valtas is a fine example of those 
large caves with which the Hebridean coast 
is studded. The mouth seaward has been 
banked up by huge rocks fallen from above, 
and smaller boulders thrown up by the waves. 
By clambering down the cliff it may be entered, 
when the visitor can proceed in a great way 
under the fern-fringed roof, until he finds him- 
self lost in the dark among pigeon-haunted 
peaks. Gladly will he return to the rays of light, 
thrown in through the wide opening, now like 
a little window far above him. There is a weird, 

UIGE. 141 

wild feeling which creeps over the rambler in 
such rocky chambers that operates powerfully 
on the imaginative Celtic mind, producing many 
a tale of superstitious wonder, never absent 
from such spots in a Celtic land. 

Turning south by the only road to Valtas, 
lately completed, we skirt the sea over great 
rolling sandy downs. A mile or two brings 
us to Meavaig, where the Free Church of Uige 
is situated, a private road a mile long leading 
to the minister's house. Skirting the sea from 
the church, the new road enters the glen of 
Meavaig, between bold and shapely cliffs. This 
is considered the most picturesque walk in the 
Lews, the road winding between advancing 
and receding cliffs, with rugged rocky elbows 
seemingly just lifted from the corresponding 
green hollow on the opposing side, extending in 
a pleasantly varied series for about two miles. 
It reminds us much of the celebrated pass of 
Keimanaigh, on the road to beautiful Glen- 

Along the summit of the hills to the right, 
the old road passes, leading to the Free Church 

142 LEW SI AN A. 

by a break-neck descent, trying even to a pedes- 
trian, but which, we were assured, the native 
vehicles were at one time obliged to pass. 

On emerging from the glen the deserted 
church of the Establishment stands on the hill, 
over the manse of Balnakill, at present occupied 
as a shooting-lodge, and bordering a vast sandy 
bay. Onwards, past several sheep farms, the 
road proceeds, until it halts twelve or fourteen 
miles off, opposite the populous little island of 
Scalpa, adjoining the mainland of Lews, con- 
taining twenty or thirty families, mostly engaged 
in the lobster fishery. 

The sheep on the farms we are passing are 
exceedingly good, this being the best sheep- 
grazing land in the country. They ought 
certainly to be valuable, for the sheep on that 
little farm we have left behind us have replaced 
a hundred exported families. 

But, although seemingly favourable for stock 
in the neighbourhood of the sea, we are no 
longer in a land of knolls but of mountains. 
Rude, bare, rocky peaks, one behind the other, 
stretch away to the south, and command the 

UIGE. 143 

attention. The road clambers wearily along the 
vicinity of the coast, and becomes more and 
more irregular as we proceed. Before turning 
to the south we see on our right, amid green 
knolls, the clachan of Mangersta, whose inhabi- 
tants ere this will have been allotted fresh fields 
and pastures new in the vicinity of Carlo way. 
The land they have is well suited for sheep, but 
their crops are rarely either grown or gathered 
in good condition, exposed as is their sandy soil 
to the full severity of the climate. 

Wild cliffs stretch southward from this to- 
wards Harris, becoming more rugged as we 
proceed. The interior is a labyrinth of moun- 
tains rising gradually from the coast, vainly 
attempting to protect themselves from the blast 
by a thin layer of peat or moss. 

A mile or two from the terminus of the road 
there is a wayside school, attended by about 
fifty scholars. It is conducted in that ordinarily 
fatal way of an absentee teacher attending 
college and leaving a substitute to conduct it on 
a pittance. Yet, in spite of the admitted faults 
of the system, through the strict supervision of 


the Free Church minister of Uige, who takes a 
personal and active interest not only in all the 
schools but in all the scholars in his district, we 
found the standard respectable. The scholars 
had a fair average knowledge of the English 
language, and the rudiments of a general educa- 
tion, showing how the conscientious discharge 
of an onerous duty by one man may improve the 
prospects of a whole community. 

We found the people of Uige generally much 
more conversant with English than were the 
other outlying districts, and the church showed 
a large proportion of " comfortable " people, 
rationally dressed. The children, too, were of a 
more refined and civilised type than we found 
at Ness, more resembling those about Carloway 
district ; showing less of the rude Norse, more of 
the sensitive Celt. 

The charm of this land — and, believe us, it 
has a distinct hold on the affections of all 
visitors as well as natives — consists in the wild 
and solitary, yet distinctive, beauty of sea and 
land. Numberless lochs set in moorland, little 
heather, endless rain, clachans indistinguishable 

UIGE. 145 

from the rocks by colour or elevation ; yet, as 
one constant visitor remarked in the late 
autumn, the land never looks so dreary as a 
leafless forest land. The sea ever gives life to 
the scenery, and satisfies the mental demand for 
breadth, thus enabling the mind to turn and 
make much of the lesser objects of beauty, 
requiring closer and more familiar observation. 

Let us turn from this sea-loch of Meavaig, 
with the green shag, and white-breasted 
goosander bobbing suddenly up on its surface, 
as suddenly to disappear ; with guillemots and 
razorbills sailing slowly oceanward in soft- 
breasted pairs, and little Highland cattle hurry- 
ing along its beach to luxuriate on the seaweed 
— let us clamber up the neighbouring rocky 
hill, and hurry over to the sea-trending valley 
before the driving gale, and we shall at least 
see one of the attractions of Uige. 

Beneath and before us stretches a half-drained 
loch, with the wind hurrying shadows over the 
yellow reeds, that now rise everywhere through 
the still waters, and throw their restless 
shadows in the blue. Beyond, the sweep of the 



Reef sands curves gracefully in the distance. 
Swarms of gulls of half-a-dozen species, among 
which the black-backed tyrant is conspicuous, 
are shrieking and squalling, tumbling and 
stalking all about. The blue sea is rippling 
quietly on the sand, and the immediate view is 
bounded by the circle of rocky islets that 
enclose the Valtas' waters. A flock of grey 
plovers is skimming above us, wild ducks are 
harbouring on an islet amid the reeds, or 
" prospecting " quietly around it ; and, as the 
sun throws brilliance into the colouring on sea 
and land, and cloudland, the kaleidoscope, turns 
on its varying views, we feel that Ultima Thule 
has not been forgotten in the creation of the 

If such a thought had for a moment possessed 
us, we had only to continue down to the sea 
over the bent-covered sandy knolls, and view 
the beautifully delicate shells everywhere cover- 
ing the surface. Mostly of an exquisite pink, so 
delicately constructed that, upon being loosened 
from the sand, the airy beauty is at once seized 
by the wind and whirled once more into the 

UIGE. 147 

waves. Each is seated on a sandy "tee," 
formed by the wind sweeping away the sand 
around it, as the storms of ages leave a perching 
boulder. Such exquisite flakes of ocean's pink 
petals we have never seen elsewhere, for 
although the other beaches of the country are 
plentifully supplied with shells, none equal 
these. We shall leave them to be raced over by 
the active little Dunlins, now stepping smartly 
and eagerly along beside us, and bear our heavier 
steps, so much less suitable for such a vicinage, 
back to the rocks and bogs. 

It is only a year or two since the road was 
made to Valtas, and, indeed, the cotters as a 
rule are averse to roads. When it was proposed 
to have one made to Gayshider, a little clachan 
some miles from Meavaig — where the people 
have fair lots — they were very much against it, 
in case the proprietor should visit them, and, 
finding out how comfortable they were, increase 
their rents ! 

When one of the ground officers * was riding 

* " Ground officers " in Scotland are petty stewards, subject to 
the head steward ox factor. The Lews/actor is called chamberlain 
of the Lews. 


on horseback along a newly made road, he bid 
" good day " to an old woman, a relative of his 
own, who was sitting by the way. " Oh, yes ! " 
she replied, " it was a fine day before the like 
of you could ride past here before the like of 

Every real or imaginary improvement is 
looked upon as a " dodge " of the factor to add to 
the cotters' rents ; and as their real or imaginary 
rights have been all ruthlessly invaded, they 
naturally view every new movement with 
suspicion. The cotters, however, calmly endure 
any severity of government so long as they may 
be left in peaceable possession of their lots ; and 
should heaven send them good crops of barley 
and potatoes, and the sea yield a plentiful 
harvest, they will bless the land where they can 
obtain fuel for the cutting and carrying, and 
sing dull care away over the winter's fire. 


/^F some places, as of some people, it is 
hardly safe to trust the hand to write. 
Who can be trusted to indite an article on the 
wife of his bosom, or write without apparently 
uncalled-for emotion about the home of his 
childhood ? 

So is it with us in respect to Carloway, with 
its pleasant bay, its rambling clachans, its 
cheerful cliffs, and, last of all, the many friendly 
faces we left beside its rocky shore. 

The Carloway River, a good-sized stream, runs 
into the sea-loch of the same name, a broad tract 
being left bare at low water where it enters. 
As it passes seaward it narrows and deepens, 
takes a sudden bend at right angles round a 
rocky bluff, and resumes its westward course. 


In this bend, sheltered from the direct action, 
of the sea, the fishing-boats lie at anchor, ex- 
posed, however, to severe squalls down the 
gully from the river. The sea-loch is nowhere 
very wide, and everywhere irregular and rocky ; 
but we understand it has been taken note of as 
an excellent harbour for a British fleet, in case 
of war with America. 

The vicinity of the boat-anchorage has an 
extensive slope carefully cultivated, and in 
spring and autumn presents a pleasing and 
picturesque appearance. Many brilliant shades 
of green combine well with the tawny rocks 
and blue waves. 

Sea, cliffs, and clachans — nothing wonderful 
— and yet, and yet it is a pleasant place. For 
nature here, as elsewhere, has her gala days 
when she dons her gayest apparel. Every one 
who has written of the Hebrides has described 
the terrific hailstorms swept along by a de- 
moniac wind, that, more especially in the late 
autumn and early spring, sweep over the 
weather-beaten, tanned, and everlastingly em- 
browned face of this sadly abused land. No 

CARLOWAY. 1 5 1 

one fails to enter minutely into details of the 
hail, snow, sleet, and rain, now alternating 
during a single day, now giving their whole 
minds to their work during a whole twenty- 
four hours — not working steadily any more 
than the Celtic inhabitants, but with boisterous 
and recurrent pertinacity. All this is it not 
written in the chronicles of " Sixty-one," than 
whom few are remembered more kindly in the 
Lews ? 

But who has described the Lews in its real 
spring ? Not boisterous February or March, but 
when all nature suddenly awakes, like the half- 
torpid inhabitants from the long nights of 
winter, and rushes to its labour like a giant 
refreshed. It presses out the primroses, and 
many a lovely wild flower, over the faces of the 
cliffs, hurries the laggard ferns into life by many 
a lonely watercourse, and decks the late sad- 
looking country in a lively suit of varying 

One who has only looked at the Lews in 
winter has not the remotest notion of what this 
dismal tract is capable. A week or two of suit- 

152 LEW SI ANA. 

able weather, and the growth is almost super- 
naturally rapid and luxuriant. As there are 
no divisions over most of the country from 
harvest to seed time, the cattle and sheep 
roaming uninterrupted over the land, every 
blade of grass is cropped up by the more than 
half-starved anatomies that wander eager-eyed 
around. But, the seed time over, they are care- 
fully tended on the neighbouring moors, and 
the struggling vegetation springs with a bound 
into activity and beauty. With what affec- 
tionate fondness do the lovely primroses and 
purple rock-daisies nestle in every creek and 
corner of those bold western cliffs, while the 
scrambling silver weed looks over from the 
edge of its bed, spread along the upper slope. 
The dweller in the sunny South naturally sup- 
poses we are in a flowerless wilderness, but 
see what we are walking through now as we 
stroll along the borders of this pretty little loch, 
a few miles from Carlo way, waving with flags 
and decked all over with lovely water-lilies. 
The grass is green and luxuriant, and studded 
with orchis of the most brilliant purple and of 


large size. Beds of the yellow iris cover the 
damper spots, and the marsh marigold grows 
in the little streams. The crowfoot, the silver- 
weed, buttercup, and yellow clover show every 
shade of yellow, while the sober gowan and white 
clover sit demure amid their more gaudy friends. 
The many species of delicate grasses give 
elegance to the green banks, and beautiful 
ferns, amid which may be seen the stately 
royal, adorn and border the stream beside us. 
The forget-me-not refuses to be forgotten, and 
the presence of the thistle makes itself felt ; 
while violets and variegated vetches contend 
for a subsistence with many a less known and 
less respected brightener of the wayside. The 
lovely eyebright and the flowering nettle, and 
even already an occasional sprig of the bell- 
heather, are peeping at us from the rocks. For 
this is the charming little green vale of Dalebeg, 
charming both on account of nature and human 
nature, and, like the shadow of a great rock in 
a weary land, the sojourner in the wilderness is 
ever sure of a kindly welcome in its hospitable 


Between Dalebeg and Carloway there is a 
renowned and very extensive beach of dis- 
integrated gneiss, unprotected in the slightest 
from the rolling Atlantic, which hurls its hollow 
breakers continuously over the dancing sand. 
A valley of rich pasture leads down to the 
bent-grown " macher " that borders the bay, 
handsome soft-contoured cliffs closing it in on 
either side. 

For a few miles on either side of Loch Carlo- 
way lies the snuggest and warmest and one of 
the most pleasing districts we have seen in the 
Lews. Northward of this it opens out into a 
bleak rocky moorland, swept over by every 
wind of heaven. Southward it becomes tamer 
and more contracted, with natter land and a 
confined inland sea. Here it is snug ; bold to 
landward, and open to seaward. 

Numberless lochs in the neighbourhood 
abound with brown trout, and those whence 
the Carloway River is fed are well supplied 
with sea-trout and salmon. These latter, how- 
ever, never rise to the angler in the Carloway 


As a rule, the sea-loch affords few fish, more 
particularly when the river is high and the 
season has been wet, the fresh water seemingly 
driving out sea-fish. 

In Loch Roag, outside, however, a fair quan- 
tity of fish may be taken at most seasons, and 
few more picturesque sea-coasts can be found 
to set a drift of hooks along. 

Let us run out and set our spiller line, and 
toss our black buoys on the wave, take careful 
bearings, and tack about for an hour or two. 
Our companions at sea are stupid guillemots, 
or quick-witted, sprightly, elegant sea-pigeons. 
The "bishop," or great northern diver, laughs 
and disappears as we seek to approach him, or 
an eider duck on a visit from the Flannan Isles 
tempts us in vain from our course. There a 
long-necked cormorant goes hurrying past with 
its strong inelegant flight, or a solan goose 
stops in its sailing course, and drops headlong 
with a splash into the deep. With what force 
the goose descends ! On one occasion a boat was 
on its way from St. Kilda, when, it is said, one 
of these birds miscalculated its progress, and, in 


place of dropping on its prey, went crash 
through the bottom of the boat. The boatmen 
found it so jammed in that they left it sticking 
through the planks until they reached the shore. 
But see that strange turmoil on the waters ! 
A large flight of gulls are tumbling over one 
another again and again, in their frantic en- 
deavours to get at a shoal of young herring. 
Not until we row right up to the spot do we 
observe any assistants, but on arrival we are 
amused to see the heads of dookers shoot 
funnily up, with a startled expression, from 
under the water all about us. These had been 
diving amid and under the shoal, whose silvery 
jackets thus rudely shaken off were dancing all 
through the surrounding waters. The gobbling 
gulls, unable to follow the prey under the waves, 
hastened to take advantage of the assistance 
thus providentially afforded them. The wild 
screeching and rude jostling and tumbling of 
the gulls was most ridiculous, and the whole 
flight might have been covered with a blanket, 
so close were they atop of one another during 
their rivalry. 


We have time still to run along by the 
bold cliffs, with now a natural bridge, now a 
huge cave, now an isolated rock like a fortalice ; 
or, tacking about again, run across Loch Roag 
to the island of Little Bernera, with its beautiful 
beaches and rich pasturage. The prevailing 
shells here are of the genus " patella ; " about 
Stornoway the most common genus is " car- 
dium." The varieties of both are great. Look 
at the bent turned into compasses ! some one 
calls out; and sure enough the stiff-pointed 
grasses growing through the sand have been 
caught in this eddy by the strong wind, and 
the points have described beautiful circles in 
the sand all about ! Lazy herons are flapping, 
active sandpipers running, and curlews are 
as fond of hearing themselves screeching as 
young ladies just "finished" from a boarding- 
school. But our buoys have been dancing 
long enough on the waves, and we seek our 

Let us now turn landward. News has come 
to the cottage this morning that the people are 
gathering for the Carloway fank. 


A stroll of half a mile over the moor, 
or rather constant leaping over peat banks, 
brings us to the green margin of a pretty 
little loch, dotted with clumps of reeds. By- 
its side the stone fank is placed, where the 
cotters' sheep, grazing on the moor in the 
vicinity, are periodically gathered. We are 
first on the ground, so must wait for a time 
beside the little pool, with the rocky hilly 
moorland spreading away on every side, diver- 
sified by an occasional loch, and enlivened by 
the little Highland cattle of the cotters dotted 
here and there over it. 

At length the people begin to gather, and 
when next we raise our heads from tales of 
other lands, we find quite a multitude of men, with 
occasional women and girls, sitting on the knolls 
around. But where are the sheep ? Patience ! 
Hist ! there comes the bleating of the pioneers, 
and, ere long, the flock of the clachan, several 
hundred strong, or weak, makes its -diversified 
appearance. Every age and sex, almost every 
species, indigenous or acclimatized, are there ; 
from the aged Cheviot ewe, with scarce a 


tuft of wool left, to the frizzy, black-faced 

On they come ! with plenty of vocal music 
as they proceed, and at length are enclosed 
within the rude walls of the fank ; a crowd of 
bipeds surrounding it outside. 

Now commences the robbery of the innocents 
— the shearing of the various fleeces. If any 
accustomed to Lowland manners, or shear- 
ing on a farm, expect similar regularity and 
decorum, they will be sadly disappointed. Here 
are no wooden stools of open spars with the 
shearers seated in — waiting for the victims ; 
but in two minutes a rush has been made into 
the fold by wild-looking, bare-legged men and 
strapping, handsome, laughing girls. Each of 
the cotter horde seizes his or her one or two 
sheep, and drags them, bleating and struggling, 
amid the furious and constant vociferations of 
all, to the grassy bank outside the fank. The 
legs of the bleaters once tied, a dozen shears 
are plied by as many parties, each more or less, 
particularly less, skilful ; and the bank is ere 
long covered by prostrate scores of nondescripts 


being denuded of their coats, or awaiting their 
turns, neither silently nor patiently. One 
consolation to the humanitarian arises from 
the fact that most of the sheep are pets, 
accustomed to being housed with the family to 
which they belong. So that, however anxious 
for wool, and unskilful at procuring it, they 
rather fail on the side of kindness and extrava- 
gance than of economy and cruelty. The 
reckless wounds indispensable from shearing 
on a great scale, as in Buenos Ayres or 
California, are nowise possible here. 

Ascending the hill alongside, we look down 
on the busy scene in the midst of the desolate- 
looking hills. The snip of the shears reaches 
our ears, through the shouting of the men, the 
shrill screaming of the women, and the piteous 
calls of prostrate mothers to their terrified and 
equally noisy offspring. 

There, a spanking girl, gaily bedight, springs 
into the fank, and soon re-appears with a sheep 
under each arm. They struggle in vain in arms 
accustomed to swing on her hips a creel of 
peats, under the weight of which many an 


athlete of my acquaintance would stagger like 
a giant in drink. There, a bare-legged girl 
of ten speeds like a fawn after a startled run- 
away, and turns it lightly on its back, as if 
turtle-turning had been the business of her life. 
The freed and wretched - looking creatures, 
already stripped of their winter coats, rush 
bleating to the hills, the lambs helplessly 
seeking their comfortless mothers, amid the 
miserable and scattered parties spread over the 
neighbouring moorland. 

Verily ! if those excitable Celts did not 
manage to carry a sparkling interest into the 
very simplest affairs of life, could they dwell 
so happily and contentedly on this "floating 
peat" ? 

Near us, in the rolling land between Carloway 
and Tolsta Chulish, is the celebrated Dune 
Carloway. This is the best preserved of any 
dune we have seen in the Lews. These circular 
dry-stone Pictish forts, or places of security, 
are very numerous in this country. At least 
a dozen are in the parish of Uige, and many 
of them have formerly dotted the sea-coast as 



far as Ness. They are generally built close by 
a freshwater loch, not far from the sea, and 
are always innocent of lime or mortar. Still 
they have been so strongly built as to reach 
the Lews of to-day from distant times, and 
would doubtless have done so in much better 
preservation but for the ready quarries they 
have proved to the cotters. 

Dune Carloway is built on a slight elevation, 
overlooking a fine freshwater loch abounding 
in trout; while, at the same time, it affords a 
capital view over Loch Roag and out to the 

On the road to Ness, a number of villages 
border the sea on the left hand, and a few 
ruined dunes are to be seen beside the lochs on 
the right. These villages merit observation 
from the peculiarity that they are built generally 
beside embouchures of " rivers." The sea, in 
almost every case> has thrown up a magnificent 
bank of gravel at the river-mouth, thus spreading 
it out into a freshwater loch, with this great 
gravel bank between it and the sea. On the 
top of the bank the fishing-boats of the com- 


munity are ranged, while the river skulks 
round the corner seaward. This is quite a 
distinctive characteristic of this part of the 
coast. Beside Dalebeg, there is a cliff ap- 
parently of good granite, much used for mill- 
stones, which shows no sign of stratification. 
As the neighbouring formation, however, is 
gneiss, it does not seem exactly in order, any 
more than the weird tales told of its boduch- 
haunted environs. 

The other day, we obtained the complete 
appurtenances of a veterinary surgeon. These 
consisted of a " serpent stone " and a serpent's 
head. The stone was simply a disc with a 
hole in the centre, and two plain circles cut 
out on it. Such are held in great esteem, are 
very rare, and their appearance is accounted 
for in various ways. The commonest account 
given is, that the hole in the stone is caused 
by the passage of a serpent through it, a Har- 
risman having found one on the way through. 
A more fanciful and complicated belief assigns 
their origin to nine times nine snakes passing 
continuously round a heather bush ? An idol- 


breaker from the mainland insists that such 
stones were common at the end of the spindles 
formerly, in place of a swelling in the wood, 
or an extemporised potato, as at present. 

However this may be, the people have great 
faith in these stones as a cure for cattle, when 
bitten by snakes, as well as in many other 
ills that bovine flesh is heir to in the Lews. 
One of these stones is placed in water, or water 
is poured over it, and then given to the cattle 
to drink. Only three or four were known to be 
in the Carloway district, and these were in con- 
stant requisition for swelling in cattle, and other 
ailments. In default of the stone, or as an addi- 
tional security, the head of an adder tied to a 
string was used in the same way, and for the 
same purpose. Such heads were more common, 
and in constant use. Will Mr. Phene, who is 
acquainted with the Lews, claim these customs 
as a relic of widespread serpent- worship ? 

A medley of ancient superstitions and modern 
bigotry exists universally among the people. 
The boldest by day fear to go about at night, 
and endless tales of Boduchs, or spirits, distend 


the eyes of young and old round the peat fire. 
Here a water-horse revels in some roadside 
loch to the terror of the wayfarer. There, a 
" head " trundles along the hilly road all alone, 
and taboos the whole vicinity to travellers. 
Now, mysterious lights about the kirk disturb 
the repose of the whole community ; and again, 
some stalwart fisherman wrestles with the 
" Boduch Mohr " — Satan himself — a whole 
night long on the moor, and "has never been 
the same man since/' 

You are passing along the road at Callarnish. 
Hasty steps are heard behind, for no one is so 
bold as to pass within a mile of the stones alone 
in the gloaming, and your company for the 
present is in urgent request. The pedestrian 
may have travelled in far lands. Were you 
afraid there ? you ask. u Not in the least " — 
only in the dread land of his birth, darkened 
by the tales of the " caimans.'' 

Then there are no musicians whatever among 
the people, as the ministers and elders as a 
rule proscribe such pure enjoyment. One 
lame lad at Shawbost had bought a fiddle to 


solace himself during the long winter even- 
ings, but the elders forced him to dispose of 
it, and now not a man plays anything but a 
Jew's harp among the natives of the west. 
Indeed, only lately have they relaxed so far 
as to have even dancing, and many ludicrous 
scenes have we witnessed from the holy horror 
of the elders. Everything that dark supersti- 
tion and a severe creed can do has been done 
to oppress the minds of the people ; but Celtic 
blood will show, and, with happy homes and 
minds at ease, they are "merry and wise," 
in spite of all ghostly interference. 


A LTHOUGH geologically the oldest forma- 
tion in Europe, the Lews must have been 
one of the latest settled. We need not look here 
for evidences of existence during the drift 
period, or contemporaries of the cave-dwellers 
of France or Southern England, for at that 
time the Lews was either bound under an 
eternal Arctic winter, or, sunk beneath the 
waves, stranded the floating icebergs, and 
received the boulder deposits from their melt- 
ing decks. Along the west coast a continuous 
series of rounded boulders, evidently of glacial 
deposit, cover the land, and the forms of the 
lower hills evidence the action of grim winter, 
as it loosened its hold of our islands, and retired 
struggling to the Northern wastes. 


We shall not then seek for drift deposits, 
nor need we look for signs of the long-headed 
cave-dweller, for they might chase the mammoth 
or the cave-bear across what is now the Straits 
of Dover, but could find no rest for the soles 
of their feet beside the Barvas hills. If this 
race still survive in the Esquimaux, they must 
have crept northward by way of Northern 
Europe, probably at a time when the North 
of Britain was uninhabitable. At any rate, 
neither of this race, nor of the more modern 
people allied to the Lapps — who, according 
to Nilsson, were the keen-witted race who 
formed the "fairy bolts," lived in underground 
dwellings, and were rooted out by the more 
powerful Teutons — do we know anything here. 
Unless they appear in this story from Martin : 
" The Island of Pigmies, or, as the natives 
call it, the Island of Little Men, is but of 
small extent. There have been many small 
bones dug out of the ground here, resembling 
those of human kind more than any other. 
This gave ground to a tradition which the 
natives have of a very low-statured people 


living once here, and called * Lusbirdan,' i.e. 
pigmies." Does this point to a remnant of the 
Lapp race that had taken refuge in these 
farthest outlying islets of Scotland, the Flan- 
nan Isles, or Seven Hunters ? It is supposed 
that this latter race were the builders of the 
beehive dwellings and underground houses 
found in various parts of the mainland. Does 
this necessarily prove that the beehive houses 
and underground dwellings of the Lews, 
some of which have been recently inhabited, 
were of their erection ? We think not. We 
do not see the necessity for dragging in Lapps, 
or even Iberians, to build, although they may 
have originated, any ancient dwelling on the 
Long Island. 

Let us take the population as it at present 
exists. No one can doubt for a moment that 
it is essentially and unmistakably Celtic. In- 
deed, in Scotland, at any rate, it is only neces- 
sary to look at the map, or read the statistics 
of the country, to tell where a Celtic popula- 
tion is to be found. Is there a good fishing- 
station, or an energetic centre of any given 


industry : — you may safely affirm that Scandi- 
navian or Teutonic, never Celtic, energy or 
enterprise has originated and developed it. 
The Celtic races, with the important exception 
of the Cornish men — if it is an exception — never 
seem to become thorough seamen. They are 
tillers of the soil, to which in general they are 
passionately attached. The Lews is no excep- 
tion to this rule, as the Scandinavian settlement 
is the only vigorous fishing community. Not 
that Ness is the only Norse portion of the 
Long Island, as the occupation of many hun- 
dred years has naturally left its stamp on the 
inhabitants throughout the country. But out 
of Ness the Celtic blood, which was necessarily 
that of the women, has absorbed alike Northern 
energy and Northern instincts. 

Granted then that the present population is 
Celtic, with a Norse admixture, we must reason 
back from the present if in any way it can 
explain the scattered and shattered remnants 
of the past. First, as to their dwellings con- 
sidered with reference to antiquity. These have 
unquestionably, up till recently, diminished in 


constructive skill and stability. This is to be 
accounted for by the great increase of popula- 
tion during the present century, and the far 
more subordinate position of the sub-tenants 
as compared with that they enjoyed under the 
ancient chiefs. Their shielings on the moor, 
in which the women spend a great part of 
the summer, are built exactly as the beehive 
dwellings, but of more perishable materials. In 
the vicinity of Shawbost there are still several 
of these stone-built and roofed beehive houses, 
occupied in the summer by the cotters ; and 
one, in the immediate vicinity of Garynahine, 
shows the roof well built of large overlapping 
stones, so as to form a strong-built dome. 
Otherwise, however, it is the same as the 
numberless shielings spread over the island, 
with two low opposite openings into which to 
creep, holes in the wall for the milk-dishes— 
showing a pastoral existence — a rude chimney 
proving an advancement on the present erec- 
tions, where no chimneys are found. 

Thus we see that unmistakable Celts in 
modern times erect and dwell in beehive 


houses ; the exigencies of the climate, the 
country, and poverty having carried these on- 
ward into modern life : reminding one of a 
street Arab standing, bewildered and out of 
place, on the threshold of a London ball-room. 

Are they a natural product of poverty and 
necessity, or have they any distinct connection 
with the modern Esquimaux habitations and 
those of the ancient Lapp inhabitants of North- 
ern Europe ? Were they adopted from an 
exterminated race in previous possession, or 
brought north by the Celts themselves, as we 
find them also in Islay and elsewhere in the 
west ? We have no data for any conclusions 
on this point, and without them speculations are 
valueless. Still, it is worthy of observation that 
stone implements are rare, and all we are 
acquainted with can be told off on the fingers. 
These may also be of very recent manufacture, 
as a people, so destitute of metal instruments 
even lately, would unquestionably use stone ; 
and we were informed of stone hammers having 
been in use in the west within the century. 
An underground dwelling recently opened at 


Gress, and containing quantities of bones split 
to extract the marrow, showed evident signs 
of having been inhabited long subsequent to the 
original habitation — say within two hundred 
years — from the freshness of the bones, which 
had yet been broken with stones. 

Besides the ordinary black-house and bee- 
hive dwellings, a better class have prevailed. 
Take, for instance, the rectangular dwelling of 
good size, built on an island on a loch above 
Dalebeg. This must have been placed there for 
defence, as the island is too small to be of use 
either for pasture land or agricultural, so that 
the building must surely be some centuries old. 

All these circumstances point to the belief, 
that in former times, as at present, the unpro- 
gressive Celt erected his human stye along- 
side the comfortable or lordly dwelling of 
the invading Teuton ; that he may have done 
so for twelve centuries or twenty ; and that 
speculations based on the probable age of such 
dwellings elsewhere must be received with 
great caution. Groping, as we are, in the dark 
at present for fragments of the ruined mile- 


stones leading back into the past, it is more 
important to read one stone clearly than to 
jump to conclusions respecting twenty. We 
shall, therefore, leave these perishable erections, 
and see if we cannot read approximately the 
more striking, if not more important, " mile- 
stones " left standing by the way. 

The most prominent of these is the megalithic 
structure known as " Turusachan," or the Cal- 
lernish circle. It is, following the survey, 13 
miles due west from Stornoway, consists of 
48 stones, and the highest point of the hill on 
which it is placed is 143 feet above the 
level of the sea. The circle is 80 feet above the 
sea, 42 feet in diameter, with the centre stone 
17 feet high. All are of unwrought gneiss. 
Inside the circle, lying east and west, is a 
cruciform grave, whose position the centre 
stone may have indicated. In this chamber, 
according to Dr. Stuart, were found fragments 
of incinerated human bones, imbedded in an 
unctuous substance apparently composed of 
peaty and animal matter. 

So far as the name goes the derivations are 


arranged to suit the advocate who is analyzing 
it for a particular theory. Thus, the Druid 
theorist — "call, a circle, church, or temple; 
aim, of the judge ; gets, of sorcery ; call-aim- 
gheis, the circle or church of the Druidical 
judge. This shows why the circle was so 
large and so distinguished. And there is 
little doubt that, in the republics or states 
of the Hebrides and Orkneys, the population 
may have been nearly, perhaps fully, as 
numerous as on the plains of Salisbury and 

According to the Surveyor-general, Callemish 
is bleak or cold headland ; Callanish, place 
of assembly for worship, or calling to prayer; 
Turusachan is a place of pilgrimage ; Tur- 
sachan, place of sadness, sorrow, or weariness. 
But the Druid theory, that has held sway so 
long, threatens to succumb before the hard- 
headed examination of the modern scientist, 
and certainly the most probable reading is the 
first, and that, like Vaternish, Trotternish, or 
the many other headlands in the west, its name 
is a legacy of the Norseman. Considering that 


the Lews nomenclature is mainly Norse, this 
may be taken as granted. 

Before proceeding to discuss the probable age 
of the temple we shall recapitulate a few of the 
theories that have been brought forward respect- 
ing it. 

1 st. Like all such megalithic structures, it 
has been claimed for the Druids, whose temples 
are not mentioned. 

2nd. The Baal worshippers have claimed it 
as their own, from a fancied resemblance to 
the sun set on a stick, which they suppose to 
have been the original mode of symbolizing 
the orb of day, here transferred to a more 
imperishable material. - 

3rd. It has been suggested that it is a relic 
of Phallic worship, but this is altogether 

4th. The latest theory is that of Fergusson, 
who is delighted with the discovery that it is 
twin-brother to a chamber buried under a 
tumulus at New Grange in Ireland, from which 
it has been copied, and is, therefore, simply 
the tomb of a great chief. 


5th. It is claimed for the Norsemen, who 
held the Isles in subjection for so many years ; 
the neighbouring circles having been used as 
Things by the Scandinavians, as they have been 
similarly elsewhere until recent times. 

We shall endeavour to bring together a few 
converging facts, and thereby arrive at some 
more definite notions of the object and date of 
its erection. 

We shall not here combat the Druidical 
theory, as that is generally discarded ; although 
any one who is acquainted with the extra- 
ordinary tenacity of memory of a comparatively 
uneducated people, who have no masses of 
light literature to dilute the homely vigour of 
their faculties, will be most unwilling to discard 
as valueless, alike inherited traditions and the 
deep impressions of a people as imbedded in 
their language. Still, although "to go to the 
stones'' is to go to church, and the expression 
must have been long anterior to any modern 
notions of Druidism, grafted on the old tradi- 
tions of their fathers, it may refer to a time 
when the spirits of the mighty dead were 



their gods, and their sepulchres the only 

If a place of worship, the independent testi- 
mony of the peat shows it to have been 
neglected for six or eight hundred years. 
Well ! this is one slight datum to start from. 
Then as to the form, it is strange to us, that 
those who chased a resemblance even into 
the centre of a tumulus, did not observe that 
it was a plain, unmistakable imitation of an 
Iona or Irish cross. This cross is sut generis ; 
peculiar, in Europe, to Ireland and the West 
Highlands ; and is generally believed to be the 
Christian cross with an encircling halo. Here 
is a peculiarity pointing to its erection posterior 
to A.D. 565, when St. Columba settled in Iona, 
taking with him this peculiar form of cross. 
We are thus circumscribed in our inquiries, 
the probability being that its date is between 
the sixth and twelfth centuries. 

If not in imitation of the Iona cross, it was 
probably merely the cruciform arrangement 
added rudely to the circle. This seems a 
natural explanation. 


But both Scots and Norsemen were builders 
of megaliths. Was it erected by the Celtic 
inhabitants ? It does not seem natural to 
suppose that a race accustomed to the elegant 
crosses of Iona would raise such a rude ex- 
ample : nor would a native race be likely to 
raise it to their own people when under Norse 
domination. Nor would the Celtic population 
raise such a Pagan memorial after the ruin 
of the Norse power in A.D. 1265. 

What reason have we, on the other hand, 
to suppose it erected by Norsemen ? 

The other megalithic remains bear a close 
resemblance to those of Scandinavia, especially 
a fosse and circle near Garabost, surrounding 
the top of an elevation on which is a menhir 
and kist, closely allied to fig. 107, Fergusson's 
" Stone Monuments/' Then Callernish evidently 
having been a circle with a cross rudely added ; 
or else a direct copy of an Irish cross. Again, 
a large menhir near Barvas was erected in 
historic times by the Morrisons of Ness, a 
Scandinavian race, to commemorate a victory 
over the Macaulays of Uig: it is larger than 


the centre stone of Callernish. While we have 
just been reinforced by a description, by Dr. 
R. Angus Smith, of a place of the same name 
in Iceland, whose vicinity has likewise been 
honoured with the presence of an ancient 

The numerous remains of churches and 
nunneries over the Lews show that the country 
was early christianized, and completely under 
the rule of the priesthood. It is not reasonable 
to suppose that the comparatively refined Celts 
would exhibit such rude power so lately. A 
people pass from rude force into gradually 
weaker art, and when art dies they exhibit 
rude weakness, never rude power. 

Consequently we are inclined to the Norse as 
the most probable agents in their production. 

Basing our inquiries on this conclusion, let us 
see at what time they were likely to have raised 

The Norse were nominally christianized in 
A.D. 1000 ; so that prior to that date a pagan 
people were not at all likely to raise a monu- 
ment in imitation of those of their conquered 


subjects. More than this, the two graves 
discovered within the Callernish circle were 
cruciform, so far pointing to a Christian origin. 
This again narrows the probable date down 
to that period embraced between iooo and 
a.d. 1263. 

But although from the cruciform arrangement, 
both of the structure and the contained graves, 
the erection must be subsequent to the year 
A.D. 1000, still it cannot have been long after 
that date, as the Norsemen must then have 
become too deeply imbued with Christian 
precepts to erect such pagan memorials. It was 
during the eleventh century that the influence 
of this northern race was paramount among the 
islands of the west as far as Ireland, until King 
Brian, as the champion of the new faith, broke 
their power. If they had raised this structure 
towards the end of their sway, the subject race 
would scarcely have respected it, or left it 

So, in reviewing our position, we arrive at the 
conclusion that the evidence inclines to prove 
Callernish Norwegian. The name itself; its 


recently discovered Icelandic counterpart; the 
custom continued in the Lews into historic times 
by the Norse descendants ; the evident imitation 
of a Christian cross by semi-pagan warriors, 
or its addition to the circle ; and, lastly, the 
evidence of the superincumbent peat, which, 
although uncertain in itself, strongly corro- 
borates the supposition that the stones were 
raised, in all probability, not earlier than the 
tenth century, nor later than the thirteenth. 

We are inclined to fix the date as the eleventh 
century, the only one in which the pagan 
element would be likely thus to intermingle and 
combine with the Christian. 

In a manuscript history of the Lews, written 
about the beginning of the century, there is an 
instance of the Druid theory creeping in. After 
detailing the received account of the Barvas 
stone, raised by the Morrisons after a battle with 
the Macaulays, when both parties were nearly 
exterminated, the writer subsequently interpo- 
lates, " yet some maintain that it was placed 
there by the Druids." As the writer (Dr. 
Macrae) was both a medical man and a clergy- 


man, and so likely to be well informed respect- 
ing the received traditions of the people, such 
an interpolation is strongly corroborative of the 
belief that the Druid theory is of extraneous 
birth, and had then no foundation in the 
traditions of the natives. And yet Martin, a 
century previously, remarked that the tradition 
of Callernish among the people is Druidical ! 

The two or three small circles in the neigh- 
bourhood of Callernish may have been used as 
Things, or marked the occurrence of battles. 
Fergusson's argument against these circles 
being places of meeting, seeing they are wholly 
unsheltered in a boisterous climate, is of no 
value, seeing that even in these degenerate 
times the communions are held in the open air, 
the clergyman alone having a wooden box, 
while the congregation sit around on gathered 

Loch Roag must have been the snuggest and 
most convenient harbour in the north for the 
Norsemen, and its vicinity was thickly popu- 
lated. All round its shores are numerous 
remains of dunes or brochs, and great tracts of 


land, now under peat moss, are said to display 
signs of former cultivation. A mild climate, 
secure harbour, immediate vicinity to what was 
formerly the best fishing - ground in the 
Hebrides, it was eminently fitted for the sea 
rovers. As the centre of population, at the head 
of the loch, and readily accessible by boats, 
it would be naturally chosen as a place of 
assembly for the delivery of laws, or otherwise. 

The Menhir and Kist, near Garabost, sur- 
rounded by a fosse and stone circle, are evidently 
of purely pagan origin. The stones have been 
originally very large, and the centre kist has 
been opened in search of treasure. On the low 
hill opposite is a large menhir known as the 
" Clach Stein," the Gaelic having been prefixed 
to the original Norse. 

Leaving the megaliths, we now come to the 
dunes or brochs, so numerous along the western 
coast. The MS. history previously quoted 
mentions the belief that these were dismantled 
by the Norsemen, having previously formed 
places of defence for the Celtic aborigines. Let 
us examine this belief. 


In the first place they are never built with 
mortar, but formed of well-fitting stones, and 
yet one or two of them are in tolerable preser- 
vation. The old churches scattered through the 
island have, on the other hand, almost entirely 
disappeared, although cemented with the most 
tenacious lime. If these so-called Pictish towers 
were so ancient as is generally received, would 
they thus have outlasted the more securely 
built and more revered sacred dwellings ? 

In many cases the people have used them as 
quarries, from which to build their huts, and 
in no case show any reverence for them what- 
ever. The tales connected with these among 
the natives have reference to giants, and these 
are furnished with Norse names. 

Again, where are the remains of the Norse 
strongholds ? We know they held the Hebrides 
for centuries, and this would necessitate places 
of defence from the conquered subjects. There 
are one or two castles of comparatively modern 
date, but where else are we to look for the 
residence of the Norse rovers, if not to these 
strong towers ? 


The first conclusion we come to is, that they 
are not more ancient than the mortared eccle- 
siastical buildings already fallen to decay ; say 
those of presumably Culdee origin. We have 
no reason to suppose they could have outlasted 
them. Then by whom were they built ? Why 
such towers should be Pictish it would be diffi- 
cult to explain, except that any inexplicable 
erection is at once made prehistoric. Are any 
such towers found in the Pictish or Dalriadic 
kingdoms ? What possible connection is there 
between these brochs and the known Pictish 
towers, such as that at Abernethy, the capital 
of the Pictish kingdom ? Such an appellation 
seems a mere begging of the question. 

Then, if not Pictish, are they of Scottish 
origin ? If built by Celts, it must either have 
been previous, or posterior, to the Norwegian 
domination. If after the Lews chief had sworn 
fealty to the Maid of Norway, we should surely 
have had some knowledge of them, as we are 
then in comparatively historic times ; nor do we 
know of any necessity on the part of the natives 
for such strongholds. 


Again, to what use could the inhabitants put 
them ? The only suggestion we have seen made 
was, that they were places of shelter for the 
adjoining villages in case of Norse invasion. 
But they are too small to hold the inhabitants of 
a village ; and if villagers were thus to leave 
their huts unprotected, their most natural as 
well as most successful manoeuvre would be to 
betake themselves to the moors, where they 
would gather strength by junction with their 
neighbours, in place of cooping themselves up 
in these little towers. 

Now these towers are mostly in the vicinity of 
the sea, and generally upon a small freshwater 
loch or river ; and around Loch Roag, which we 
have seen was probably a haunt of the rovers, 
they are more than usually numerous. Also 
there is scarcely a loch on the way to Ness with- 
out its ruined dune. 

We thus find that the district principally 
infested by the sea-rovers is that thickly studded 
with dunes. The same holds good on the main- 
land in the north-western parts of Inverness, 
Sutherland, and Ross-shire, as well as in 


Orkney. They are seldom far from the sea, as 
if leaning for support upon their galleys, and 
are just such towers as invaders unskilled in 
masonry might erect, among a hostile popula- 
tion. Too small to shelter a village population, 
they are sufficiently large to accommodate a 
handful of resolute men ; and scattered along 
the seaboard would yield each other support 
while overawing the people. 

If they had been built by the natives to 
prevent the landing of rovers, they would have 
been built still nearer the sea, and in very 
different situations ; nor would they have 
required the immediate vicinity of freshwater 
lochs if secure of the sympathy of the popula- 
tion. Nor can any one who has examined them 
suppose them to be of the nature of guard or 
watch towers, as one can rarely be seen from 
the other, and a people afraid of incursions 
from the sea would surely have built their 
towers on eminences, whence the coming danger 
could be seen and telegraphed. 

Indeed these considerations, together with the 
fact that the north and west coasts and the Isles 


are the districts where these towers most do 
congregate, as the Norsemen did formerly, and 
the traditions of giants inhabiting them with 
Scandinavian names, as the giant Glum in Uig, 
all point to a Norse origin. The only towers at 
all resembling them, of which we have know- 
ledge, are those built by the early Norse settlers 
in Greenland, at Ericsfiord, settled by the Norse- 
men in the eleventh century, as mentioned by 
Hayes. We do not acknowledge their similarity 
to the Sardinian. 

It is natural enough that a race of rude circle 
builders, whose possible Things are in the midst 
of the dune district, should have erected round 
towers of large unmortared stones, in which 
each petty chief might exercise as uncontrolled 
authority as in his war-galley. 

It may be interesting to add the following 
note from Gardiner's " Indians of Chili : " — " Near 
the Andes several rest-houses at regular intervals 
were erected. They are built entirely of burnt 
brick, laid on lime, with a coped roof of some 
material supported by an arch which forms the 
ceiling. May not those remarkable towers, 


called dunes in Scotland, have been erected 
for purposes somewhat similar ? " To this a 
friend replies, that as several are occasionally- 
found close together the similarity is ima- 



TI 7E shall now discuss their claim to a more 
ancient date of construction, before ever 
a Culdee passed from Iona with tidings of peace, 
or even before the gentle Galilean preached his 
sermon on the mount. 

Their claim to an Eastern origin cannot be 
passed over in silence ; but whether brought by 
the Scythian-Sabaean worshippers or the Tuath- 
de-danaan worshippers of Buddha, we are not 

It appears to us that modern research tends 
strongly to the belief that, from their cradle in 
Asia the nations have spread east and west, 
carrying with them a mythology in which the 
combined reproductive and destructive powers 


of earth and sky have been symbolized in the 
human body. It is the foundation of Buddhism ; 
and with necessary modifications is found alike 
among all the non-savage nations east and 
west — from the Peruvians and Aztecs to the 
Scythians and Celts. This we here term Sabsean 
for want of a better word, in allusion to the 
original idea. 

A writer upon Eastern subjects remarks upon 
the familiarity with which Christianity was 
regarded by the Buddhists of India ; while 
historians equally acknowledge the peculiar 
readiness with which the Highlanders listened 
to its tenets. Just now a medical friend has 
stepped in from an examination of a collection 
of skulls, with the observation, " I was much 
struck with the extraordinary similarity between 
the skulls of the Hindoos and those of the 
Scotch, so essentially distinct from those of the 

Both these widely separated peoples possess 
the same contemplative and imaginative cast of 
intellect, and the Highlanders of Scotland, along 
with their Eastern garb, have ever been 


renowned for Eastern courtesy and delicacy of 
mind. It may also be remarked that the famous 
Celtic form of brooch cannot be distinguished in 
numerous instances from the brooches of Hindo- 
stan ; while it has recently been observed by a 
traveller, that the long bone combs found in 
tumuli, etc., and hitherto unexplained satisfac- 
torily, are identical with those still used in the 
Himalayas for arranging the threads in 
weaving ; the same article being in use among 
the Aztecs in New Mexico. 

Proofs are adduced that the Tuath-de-danaans, 
the Buddhist race supposed to have held Ireland 
for two centuries, were driven into Scotland, 
where they are said by Buddhist theorists to 
have left some sculptured evidences of their 
occupancy. They were again driven to the 
extreme North by the ruder Celtic people who 
followed them ; but as they are said to have 
been a literate and comparatively cultivated 
people, they no doubt influenced to a great 
extent their ruder conquerors. Indeed, the 
character of the present Highlanders — combin- 
ing, as it does, the love of music, song, and 



Eastern grandiloquence with habits of delicate 
courtesy, and at the same time the Scythian 
passion for war and the chase — is exactly that 
to be anticipated from a combination of the 
Tuath- de-dan aans and the Scythian warriors. 
We are told, " From the cities of Ur and 
Babylon, northward to the remote regions of 
Caucasus and the Scythian noniades, .... the 
infatuated nations adored the sun, the moon, 
and the hosts of heaven ; " so that we may con- 
clude the Scoti or Scythians were essentially 
Sabaean worshippers. 

Again, it may be remarked that the circle at 
Garabost, so closely resembling a Scandinavian 
example, must also bear a great similarity to 
one on the battle-field of Northern Moytura, as 
figured in Fergusson and compared by him with 
the Danish. But Moytura has been claimed 
both for the Tuath-de-danaans and the Scandi- 
navians, so that we are no further advanced in 
the inquiry. 

Still, we must accept the possibility of a 
Buddhist race passing north from Ireland ; so 
in the absence of any sculpture in the Lews 


antiquities that we are aware of, to prove the 
Buddhist kinship, we merely acknowledge the 
argument for their post - Christian erection, 
based on the cruciform arrangement, to be of 
questionable value, the cross having been an 
Eastern and pre-Christian symbol. Yet the 
probability must remain in favour of the more 
recent and modern derivation. 

The towers, again, if built by the same race 
as the round towers of Ireland, from having 
been built without mortar must have been so 
when that race was on the decline. O'Brien 
suggests that these towers were internally pro- 
vided with little platforms for placing rows of 
images upon, as in Indian pagodas. This seems 
to be the case. In connection with this idea 
we may mention, that many years ago a soldier 
discovered in an ancient ruined chapel on the 
confines of Harris about thirty figures resem- 
bling Eastern chessmen in style and workman- 
ship, but not in particulars. As we know that 
the early Christians not only did not scruple to 
employ the paraphernalia, but even made a point 
of amalgamating their ceremonies with those of 

196 LEWSIAN^l. 

the previous worship, it is not at all improbable 
that these images were transferred from some 
superseded shrine. Although apparently of 
Indian design, they are yet of Northern produc- 
tion, as they are rudely carved out of walrus 
tusks. Unfortunately, most of them have gone 
a-missing from the antiquarian museum of 
Edinburgh, where a few may still be seen. 

Again, the symbolization, which is not neces- 
sarily the worship of the serpent, so inseparably 
conjoined with Buddhism as with all Sabaean 
mythologies — an image of the world, of eternity, 
as well as of life and death — is here represented 
at the present day. 

What is the serpent-stone, so called, and 
employed upon so many occasions as a certain 
cure for all kinds of diseases ? It has no re- 
semblance whatever to the serpent, and how 
does it bear the name ? Is it not simply a 
symbol of the sacred python, and a most un- 
mistakable and widespread remnant of the 
primitive creed that death came by the woman, 
whose type is the serpent, and that through the 
same agency came regeneration ? — as the sun, 


the destroyer, is the source of life. And does 
not this Eastern belief agree with the observa- 
tion that the bite of the serpent can be best 
cured by the application of a piece of the rep- 
tile's skin ? The serpent is burdened with the 
blame of ills innumerable, and is employed as 
a cure in the Lews either in its own person 
or in its symbol, this stone of simplest form and 
construction, which may be the whorl off their 

And here, through all these centuries of 
Christian rule, hidden from the priests of their 
received religion, this remnant of their ancient 
belief has remained as an ineradicable super- 
stition, to prove the tenacious character of their 
Eastern intellects, and the impossibility of de- 
stroying the dwarf-palm roots of a primitive 

Not only is this stone employed all over the 
Lews and Highlands of Scotland in this way, 
but its exact fac-simile is a constant and wide- 
spread ornament adorning articles found amid 
the pre-historic remains of this country. Whe- 
ther on the rude combs found in the underground 

198 ' LEWSIANA. 

dwellings or ruined brochs, or articles of the 
most varied character found in the numberless 
excavations carried on in all localities, be they 
apparently tumuli or unmistakably dwelling- 
places, these same " ornaments " are general. 
Occasionally they are in company with the 
crescent moon, another type of the same idea, 
showing distinctly that they were no meaning- 
less representation, but that what was originally 
a sacred symbol had degenerated into a Fetish. 
If any doubt was felt as to its intention to repre- 
sent this Sabaean symbol, its comparison with 
the serpent on the Newton stone, with this pecu- 
liar figure in the centre, would surely remove it. 
Here we have an unmistakable representation 
of the python — the original of the symbol — so 
conjoined with the symbol itself as to explain 
each other : this, too, after we have just seen it 
frequently conjoined with the crescent, the other 
similar symbol. We have only space to add 
that it has recently been discovered in Ireland, 
with twelve equal divisions, as if for the Zodiac ; 
while in ancient systems the serpent has been 
found encircling the Zodiac [e.g. the Babylonian), 


and has always, likewise, represented eternity 
and creation. Fancied analogies, says the 
reader. What else is all mythology ? 

The worship of Buddha, or a Sabaean counter- 
part, is so evidently symbolized in the West of 
Europe that even Fergusson cannot close his 
eyes to the fact, and endeavours to account for 
it by an emigration of Buddhistic tenets during 
times so comparatively recent as to be within 
the range of history. But modernists will strain 
at a gnat and swallow a camel. Do we not 
believe that all incoming creeds make the gods 
of the dispelled belief the evil spirits of the new ? 
What are the evil spirits of the Gaels ycleped ? 
Boduchs, pronounced Boddus, while the word 
still retains its ancient secondary signification 
of old man, head of the family, equivalent to 
" lord and master " in patriarchal times. 

If, then, the sculptured crosses be possibly 
pre-Christian, this rude Lews temple of similar 
form may also be of ancient date. But the 
complete lack of figuring or sculpture does not 
necessitate its being of a more ancient date 
than those so honoured, any more than the 


" Black House " in the west is more ancient 
than a well-built tenement in Stornoway. 

Against the theory of the similarity of design 
of the round towers or brochs with the round 
towers of Ireland, it may be observed — first, the 
round towers cannot accommodate above a dozen 
people at once ; then, " they are cemented by a 
bond of such indurated tenacity, that nothing 
short of lightning or earthquake has been known 
to disturb them ; " and in these two important 
particulars the round towers completely differ 
from the Scottish dunes. These are frequently 
about fifty feet in diameter, and in no case that 
we are aware of have they ever been cemented. 
This might be explained in the Lews, where 
there is no limestone from which to form cement, 
and the builders might have been ignorant of 
the value of shell-lime so generally employed 
by the Culdees. But this argument has no force 
over many parts of the North of Scotland, where 
brochs are numerous. 

The various collections recovered from the 
dunes of the mainland supply no sufficient 
data for any theory, although they cannot be 


said to point to extreme antiquity, but a time 
subsequent to Roman occupation. We find 
rude implements of flint and bone along with 
others of bronze and iron, clay moulds for the 
same, showing that they were independent of 
Etruscan or Phoenician " hardware merchants." 
Bones and horns of the reindeer are found 
side by side with Christian names in Roman 
characters, circumscribing the antiquity of the 
deposit. They seem to point to a semi-savage 
and semi-pagan population, inhabiting a rude 
and poor country, when "baptized men made 
libations of milk or beer to the demons of the 
place." But still they may have been for- 
tuitous deposits, and by no means dependent 
on the brochs. 

If Sabaean worship ever prevailed here in 
its original form, it must soon have degene- 
rated before hordes of Scythians and Firbolgs, 
or equally rude Picts. These warrior races 
had grafted veneration for their departed chief- 
tains on their original sidereal creed, and, de- 
spising alike the delicacies of life and the ele- 
gancies of architecture, may have raised such 


semi-religious sepulchres as Callanish after the 
earlier and more perfect original design. " The 
worship of stones is among the acts of heathen- 
ism forbidden by King Edgar in the tenth, 
and by Cnut in the eleventh century," and 
possibly this historical reference pointed both 
to the so-called original Sabaean sculptured 
stones, and the ruder erections of the unlettered 
races that succeeded. 

That such edicts are of little value may well 
be believed, and remains of their primary belief 
have possessed a powerful hold upon the people 
within very recent times. Thus Martin : " There 
is a stone in form of a cross, in the Row 
opposite to St. Marie's Church, about five feet 
high ; the natives call it the water-cross, for the 
ancient inhabitants had a custom of raising 
this sort of cross to procure rain, and when 
they had got enough they laid it flat on the 
ground/' And again, Lubbock : " There was a 
sacred stone in Jura, round which the people 
used to move deasil, i.e. sunways. In the island 
of Skye, in every district, there is to be met with 
a rude stone consecrated to Gruagach or Apollo. 


The Rev. Mr. McQueen, of Skye, says that in 
every village the Sun, called Grugach or the 
fair-haired, is represented by a rude stone ; and 
he further states that libations of milk were 
poured on the Gruaich stones." 

This veneration for the sun was general 
among them. So Martin : " In the island of 
Rona, off Ness, one of the natives would needs 
express his high esteem for my person by 
making a turn round about me sunways, and 
at the same time blessing me and wishing me 
all happiness." 

" Also when they are got up into the island 
(Flannan), all of them uncover their heads, 
and make a turn sunways round, thanking God 
for their safety." " Some are very careful when 
they set out to sea that the boat be first rowed 
about sunways, and if this be neglected they 
are afraid their voyage may prove unfortunate." 

"There was an ancient custom in the island 
of Lewis to make a fiery circle about the houses, 
corn, cattle, etc., belonging to each particular 
family : a man carried fire in his right hand 
and went round, and it was called Dessil from 


the right hand, which in the ancient language 
is called Dess." " St. Andrew's well, in the 
village of Shadar, is by the vulgar natives made 
a test to know if a sick person will die of the 
distemper he labours under. They send one 
with a wooden dish to bring some of the water 
to the patient, and if the dish which is then laid 
softly upon the surface of the water turns 
round sunways, they conclude that the patient 
will recover that distemper; but, if otherwise, 
that he will die." The Hyperboreans, according 
to Diodorus, "worship Apollo above all other 

Martin mentions that formerly, in cases of 
murrain or the plague in the Lews, all fires 
were extinguished and fresh fire procured by 
eighty-one married men rubbing two planks 
together until ignition followed : from the fire 
thus procured all the other fires were relighted 
afresh. So Lubbock : " The Brahman will not 
use ordinary fire for sacred purposes, he does 
not even obtain a fresh spark from flint and 
steel, but reverts to, or rather continues, the old 
way of obtaining it by friction with a wooden 


drill, one Brahman pulling the string back- 
wards and forwards, while another watches to 
catch the sacred spark." Nine times nine is 
likewise the sacred number of the Bhuddists. 

From these various instances it is plain that 
until recently an Eastern form of thought, 
distinct from that received through Greece and 
Rome, has deeply influenced the native inhabi- 
tants of the north. The Celts may have left 
their Eastern cradle long prior to the rise of 
any of the existing creeds, and yet the Hindoo 
and the Highlander have cognate superstitions 
with a common origin. We have caught 
glimpses of their primitive ideas, as well as 
their primitive beehive dwellings, designs, and 
pottery, and may have likewise, in Callanish 
and Dune Carlo way, their primitive temples 
and fortalices. 

We have now in these two papers touched 
upon a few of the antiquarian problems that 
await solving in the Lews, and hope thereby 
to stimulate some of our Island readers to 
pursue the subject. What we require for the 
elucidation of the question is, not theories, 


which are abundant, but facts, which are few. 
Then let those who are interested in the advance 
of knowledge dig and investigate, with proper 
caution and judgment, and tell us what they 
find. Until we have a body of facts, theories 
can only be based upon sand, to be washed 
away by the next wave of evidence. As 
regards the dunes, or brochs as they are better 
called, Mr. Joseph Anderson, one of our ablest 
archaeologists, holds opinion at variance with 
the preceding. He concludes, after abundant 
examination of the mainland brochs, that they 
were originally built by the Picts, and only 
thereafter taken possession of by the Norsemen. 
There is a similar belief current in the Lews. 
We require more data in support of this theory 
before we accept it, and meantime have grouped 
the Picts under Celtic Aborigines, and con- 
sidered their claims as such. 

But the present inhabitants are Celts, whether 
of Pictish or Scottish descent, and the skill 
with which each man erects his own unmortared 
stone dwelling, or helps to raise circular mills 
or kilns, would be natural to the descendants 


of broch-builders. Just as the manufacture 
of the rude " crackens " is naturally continued 
to-day on the model of the ancient ware of 
the brochs. 

Again, it may well be that a broch is merely 
a developed beehive dwelling, too large for 
the builders to roof over with overlapping 
stones. If this analogy were found to prevail, 
it would decidedly go to disprove our Norse 
theory, as no one can suppose these beehive 
houses to be Scandinavian. 


"\ 7TEWED generally, the animals of the 
Lews, as might have been expected, are 
all of small breed. This refers alike to wild 
and domesticated animals, and no doubt arises 
from the lack of a sufficient supply of nourish- 
ment during a great portion of the year. On 
the other hand, they are remarkably hardy, 
from constant exposure to a trying, although 
not a severe, climate. 

The fauna is more " conspicuous by the 
absence" of certain classes of animals than 
from the presence of any peculiar to the island. 
No moles rear their hummocks anywhere in the 
country, probably the damp, peaty character 
of the soil neither offering a hospitable reception 
nor a supply of congenial food. The same may 


be said of rabbits, which are nowhere to be 
found in the Lews, although numerous in the 
Harris district, where the nature of the soil is 
more suitable. Fortunately, no rabbits means, 
in this instance, no foxes ; so Reynard the subtle 
does not imitate the rich man with the pet 
lamb of the cotter. Hares are quite a recent 
addition to the animals, as the Rev. John 
Buchanan writes in 1790 : "There are no foxes, 
moles, or hares over all the Long Isle ; nor 
ferrets, partridges, black cocks, nor many of 
the granivorous fowls/' They must have been 
common shortly after his time, however, as 
Dr. Macrae mentions " grouse, hare, and snipe " 
as the common game at the beginning of the 
century. We understand white hares were 
first introduced by sportsmen into Harris, 
whence they rapidly spread over the country. 
For many years they were common in the 
neighbouring country, but did not pass into 
the Uige district until the bridges were built 
across the Grimersta and Blackwater, and the 
presence in Uige of these white ghosts flitting 
about in the darkness created a profound 



impression, as the natives thought the last day 
must be nigh, with so many spirits going about 
loose. The brown hare, although common, is 
not so numerous as the white mountain hare, 
which, however, is too easily betrayed in the 
brown Lews land, and is much better suited 
for the snow-clad slopes of Harris. They 
burrow in holes in the rocks, like conies, 
in some districts. The ferret tribe is not 
generally supposed to be represented, although 
we were informed of a large mustela (polecat ?) 
having been killed in the west. But we 
are inclined to believe there are no weasels, 
as we can swear to the presence of multi- 
tudes of brown rats, and a perfect plague 
of mice. Besides the common mouse, a 
specimen of the long-tailed field-mouse was 
brought us. 

Having thus considered the negative fauna, 
we shall cast a rapid glance over the actual. 

The cattle are of a small enduring breed, 
and certainly require all their peculiar powers, 
developed by natural selection, to starve through 
the long winters on little but seaware. Want 


of proper feeding makes them very backward 
in their growth, and a two-year-old stirk is still 
a tousy-headed baby cow. They fatten well, 
however, and prove sweet and excellent for the 
table, bringing a large price in the English 

The ordinary native sheep of the cotters are 
rags of creatures, manufacturing sweet mutton 
out of the memory of sweet summer feeding 
on the moors, and their share of the seaware. 
Superior sheep have been introduced by some 
of the farmers ; but the best suited for the 
country generally is, no doubt, the hardy 
black-face, which is, at the same time, a 
decided advance upon the original small native 

Sheep become as active and sure-footed 
as goats, scrambling about the face of the 
cliffs after the sweet bits of herbage in the 
crevices, their valour or hunger occasionally 
outrunning their discretion and tumbling them 
into the sea. On such an occasion, we have 
known a daring cragsman ascend six or seven 
hundred feet of sheer cliff with a dead sheep 


under his arm, where several goats died of 
starvation from inability to ascend. 

The Barvas ponies seem a distinct species 
from the Shelty, and are remarkably hardy. 
They are bred principally along the stony 
western district stretching from Shawbost to 
Ness. To-day they have become scarce, as 
their small size and great powers of endurance 
cause a demand for them for coal-pits, and 
the finer go for basket-carriages. They may 
be seen in the ditches by the roadside up to 
the knees in water, cropping the grass a foot 
under the water, as if it was their most natural 
position. But really none of the Lews 
vertebrata could exist, if objectionably sensi- 
tive to water. 

Red deer are preserved in the various 
"forests," as they courteously term the tabooed 
tracts of moorland, so as not to hurt the 
feelings of the noble animals. They rarely 
attain any size, or carry fine heads ; that is to 
say, the form may be good, but the antlers 
even of a stag of ten are seldom considerable. 
In August, 1835, Sir Frederick Johnston, who 


had then the whole of the Lews shootings, 
shot in three weeks about one hundred head of 
deer. We have seen black-faced sheep much 
wilder than the deer in the home and Mossgiel 

Of the amphibia, seals and otters are both 
represented. The former are occasionally seen 
in numbers in the west ; and the latter formerly 
inhabited almost every loch and pool. Even 
still they are very numerous ; and as the old 
cotters who were most skilled in their habits, 
and, consequently, in their capture, are dying 
out, and the keepers give little attention to 
them, they may continue abundant. Their 
skins are now purchased at such a high price, 
however, that it will stimulate the poor to 
exercise their ingenuity in devising better 
modes for their capture. 

Whales are sometimes driven on shore in 
multitudes by the people. Martin tells us, 
"Young whales are most of them eaten by 
the common people, who, by experience, find 
them to be very nourishing food. They call 
it sea - pork : the bigger whales are more 


purgative than these lesser ones, but the latter 
are better for nourishment/' To-day they 
find them rather strong nourishment even 
for the land, unless previously made into a 


/^AF birds, the eagle naturally occupies the 
first place, but the constant warfare waged 
against it by keepers, shepherds, and cotters, 
who have generally a few sheep, will no doubt 
soon exterminate it. Such a result would 
probably have arrived before this, if it were 
not that the rugged cliffs of Harris and the 
wilder parts of Uige afford them secure breeding- 
places. Even in the time of Buchanan, before 
1790, he mentions that the factor, "Mr. Mac- 
kenzie, for every eagle killed in Lews gives 
half-a-crown ; " and as the country north of 
Harris is flat and offers them no security, those 
found are generally from the west or south. 
Among the Barvas hills an eagle's nest was 
recently destroyed by letting down burning 

2 1 6 LEWSIANA. 

bushes from the top ; and in their immediate 
neighbourhood we have frequently seen a pair of 
white sea-eagles coursing in circles. 

The golden and common eagles also speed 
north for an occasional breakfast during the 
lambing season, or hover in circles about some 
braxy-haunted hill-side. 

Of hawks, the noble peregrine falcon is the 
most common and most beautiful, rivalling the 
eagle in grace and power of flight. How often 
have we seen them hovering over the sea-cliffs, 
scaring their peculiar prey, the blue rock-pigeon, 
bullying the croaking ravens who dared to 
dispute their reign, and driving them helter- 
skelter to shelter ignominiously in the crevices 
of the rocks. You daring brigands ! how the 
savage in our nature " cottons " to you after all ! 

The sparrow-hawk and the kestrel skirt the 
brows of the lesser eminences, and pounce upon 
a weaker prey. The goshawk has been shot 
in the west ; and we were informed of a single 
instance of the buzzard having bred in the 
Uige district, but saw no specimen. 

Of the brown and barn owls vve saw none, 

BIRDS. 217 

but understand they are not unknown, although 
the want of congenial breeding-places no doubt 
prevents their multiplying. The snowy owl 
{Surma nyctea) has been frequently shot : the 
head-keeper procured three specimens in one 
morning at Ness. These large, handsome, 
finely marked owls may come south from Ice- 
land or the Faroe Isles, or over from Norway. 

Ravens [Corvus cor ax) are by far too numerous 
for the good of the cotters, farmers, and sports- 
men ; as their appetite for lamb requires no 
assistance from mint-sauce, and game-laws are 
as little regarded by these u blackbirds " as by 
Lanarkshire colliers. They have young in 
April, and require to place their nests in 
the most inaccessible rocks to escape the bold 
Lewis cragsman. We have dangled in vain 
over a sea-cliff, in our efforts to reach their 
eggs, the nest being unapproachable either from 
above or below. The grey crows [Corvus comix) 
go in troops of twenty to fifty together, and 
commit many a depredation put down to the 
debit of the cotter children. We have known 
them steal the hens' eggs from about the farm- 


yard, kill the chickens, and otherwise hang 
about like footpads, ready for any weak or 
unprotected victim that might turn up. Like 
all the crow race, they are far too shrewd to be 
readily caught napping, and, as Lewismen don't 
show great ingenuity in securing them, they 
increase and multiply to the detriment of the 
sportsman and the farmer. Grouse eggs, young 
moorfowl, chickens, or weakly birds, are at 
once attacked ; and let but a sheep show a 
sign of sickness, and the proverbial " Corby 
picks out its een." 

Rooks have been bred about the castle, 
eggs having been imported for this purpose, 
but they have not shown any attachment to 
the place, nor, so far as we saw, any intention 
to remain. We observed a flight of rooks 
crossing Loch Roag in September, 1871 ; these 
were probably straying from Skye or the main- 
land, as a large flock had been picnicing in the 
Uige district for some weeks before. They are 
said only to come with a severe gale of south- 
east wind, and to leave the first moderate 
weather, thus pointing to Skye as their home. 

BIRDS. 2 19 

The rock-pigeon [Columba livta) is the prin- 
cipal representative of its family, and all 
around the rocky parts of the coast may be 
seen in great flocks, sometimes numbering 
several hundreds. They breed in the so-called 
pigeon caves everywhere plentiful, or in the 
numberless clefts among the rocks. As they 
seldom proceed far from the coast, and are 
always on the alert, passing like a flash from 
place to place, they rarely come in the way of 
the ordinary sportsman. The uncertainty as 
to their whereabouts, difficulty of approach, 
and their small size and little value when shot, 
prevent the sportsman seeking them in their 
haunts. Thus they increase and multiply and 
replenish the sea-board, forming a charming 
adjunct to the rude coast scenery, and only 
kept down by a reiving Hebridean or dashing 
peregrine. In the early morning we have 
often seen them settled among the seaware 
before our dwelling, feeding diligently. This 
was especially the case in the autumn about 
September. We have found their young as 
early as April. 


A turtle-dove has been shot in the neigh- 
bourhood of Gress. 

Of game birds we merely mention the names. 
The red grouse [Lagopus scoticus) is now of more 
importance in the eyes of Scottish proprietors 
than the tillers of the soil. Great part of the 
Lews is comparatively well stocked with them : 
and, to the credit of the law-abiding people be 
it said, the loss by poaching is in general 

Although the country may be said to be 
well stocked with grouse, still a sportsman 
need not expect to shoot his twenty or thirty 
brace in a stroll before breakfast. The great 
advantage of the country, indeed, to a true 
sportsman, lies in the fact that he will always 
get his eight to twelve brace after covering 
an extensive tract of moor. The birds too 
never get very wild even in November, so 
that you are always sure of a fair bag after a 
fair day's hard work. The ground, although 
occasionally boggy, is not too trying to the 

No doubt this fact of the moors not carrying 

BIRDS. 221 

too many birds, and heather never growing 
rank and strong, is favourable to the health 
of the birds, which have hitherto escaped disease 
to any extent. 

The ptarmigan [Lagopus vulgaris) is shot on 
the hills, but is necessarily more numerous 
to the south. Snipes are widely distributed 
over the country, and, from the prevalence of 
marshy land, are often very numerous : like all 
the birds of this country, they are exquisitely 

The woodcock [Scolopax rusticola) arrives in 
numbers in September. Certain districts are 
noted for them, their habitats being exceedingly 
local. They have been known to breed in the 
island. Of the same family we have the curlew 
[Numenius arquatd), everywhere abundant. Be- 
fore it has taken up its permanent residence on 
the sea-coast, and become a little fishy, there is 
no more delicate bird for the table ; and we 
consider a slice from the breast of a curlew in 
good condition superior in every respect to a 
golden plover in the short days. 

The whimbrel {Nurnenius phceopus), a smaller 


species of curlew, arrives sometimes in April 
and May in its northern migration. 

The sandpiper frequents the margins of the 
numberless pools. 

In the winter golden plover [Charadrius plu- 
vialis) frequent the vicinity of the clachans in 
great numbers, and always, in the very shortest 
days, rolling in fat and in superb condition. In 
fine weather they retire to the more distant 
moors, where also they breed in summer. The 
dotterell [Charadrius mor melius) has also been 
shot in the west. 

The lapwing [Vanellus cristatus) we have seen 
in the Uige and Barvas districts in small flocks. 
It only arrives in Barvas to breed, leaving im- 
mediately the young are sufficiently strong. 
Formerly they were in immense flocks, but are 
not by any means numerous to-day. 

Grey herons [Ardea cinerea) are exceed- 
ingly common, as might be anticipated in such 
a land of fish-haunted pools. They are gene- 
rally believed to be in best condition during 
full moon, when they have most success in 
their piscatory excursions. Their oil is con- 

BIRDS. 2 2$ 

sidered capital for guns, and is obtained by 
the primitive mode of burying them in a 
manure heap, with their bill stuck in a bottle, 
into which the oil distils. 

The starling [Sturnus vulgaris) may be said 
to be a Lews institution. They frequent the 
whole country in large flocks, roosting in 
chattering groups upon the rocks, and haunt- 
ing the sea caves in myriads. We have often 
amused ourselves in the evenings rolling stones 
from the top of the cliffs over into some ocean 
cave, to bring out the excited, and vehemently 
expostulating, tenants. Around the lighthouse 
at Ness are ranged rows of horsehair nooses 
to catch the troublesome birds that will defile 
the purity of the surrounding glass, that domi- 
nates their rocky fastnesses. Like the pigeons 
they feed among the seaware, if not also 
upon it. 

Another institution may be said to be the 
song- thrush [Turdus musicus), whose name is 
legion around the coast. The double intima- 
tion of their presence everywhere greets the 
rambler by the shore. Here, it is their ringing 


song re-echoed from the cliffs ; there it is the 
everlasting tap, tap, as they break up the shell- 
fish and gobble the unmailed mollusc. The 
destruction they caused among bur bed of 
mussels gave some idea of the infinite quantity 
of shell-fish these indefatigable songsters swal- 
low, either following the example of more 
highly cultivated singers, or ordered by their 
physician to strengthen their chests. When- 
ever we hear the mavis now, it recalls the 
cracking of the homes of the winkles, sacri- 
ficed on the altar of song. 

Blackbirds [Turdus merula) are by no means 
so common, as they are a much shyer bird, 
and have not accommodated themselves to 
living in this unclad land. About the castle 
woods they may be found, and we have seen a 
few about Limshider and the west, where there 
is a little cover, but none are seen in the Uige 

The fieldfare [Turdus pilaris) and the red- 
wing [T. iliacus) arrive in the Lews in 
December, the former being much the more 

BIRDS. 225 

The corncrake [Crex pratensis) arrives in the 
west in May, and during the summer we have 
seen more in the Lews than in any other part 
of the country ; indeed they showed a care- 
lessness in exposing themselves to view we 
have never elsewhere observed in these usually 
shy and retiring birds. Mr. Caunter found a 
corncrake alive, deep in a peat boghole, near 
Stornoway, in winter : no doubt it had been 
unable to join its comrades in their autumn 
migration, and may have partially hibernated. 
Such instances in the case of swallows have 
been frequent. The cuckoo also appears in 
May, but not in any number. Wheatears, in 
Lewis miscalled "Clacheran," or stonechats, 
adorn the top of every rock; and their note 
is almost as ear-monopolizing on the moor, as 
the thrush's by the " sad sea-shore." 

The grey wagtail arrives in March. 

Redbreasts have frequented the west for 
twenty years ; but, no doubt, like the various 
linnets, they only date from the plantations 
around the castle. 

The snowfleck, or snow bunting [Plectro- 


phanes nivalis), is exceedingly common all along 
the roads in the winter, skipping along before 
the traveller ever a little further as he comes 
up. It is a beautifully marked little bird, and 
although seldom all white in this mild climate, 
yet shows so brightly white under the wings 
and on the body, as it suddenly lifts its wings 
in flight, that even here it well deserves its 
title of snowfleck. It retires into the moors to 
breed in the summer-time. 

The wren is represented all over the country, 
and the golden-crested wren has been observed 
among the castle woods. 

We have observed several specimens of a 
species of Hirundo, near Barvas, but have not 
heard of their nesting anywhere in the Lews ; 
whether house-martins or land-martins could 
not be distinguished. 

The wild goose [Anser ferus) sleeps with one 
eye open throughout the Lews. On the Flannan 
Isles it breeds in immense flocks, and often 
several hundred together may be seen in the 
Island of Pabba, on Loch Roag. They have 
favourite spots on the mainland where they 

BIRDS. 227 

proceed to feed, and there the ground, over a 
great extent, is rutted up by their strong bills, 
and often every sign of vegetation destroyed. 
If their eggs are hatched under domesticated 
birds, the young become quite tame, and little 
more given to rambling than their fellows of 
the farmyard. Still we have seen a flock of 
domesticated wild geese arrive among the 
domestic geese, and quietly live with them for 
weeks. When they gradually left, however, as 
leave they did, they withdrew several of the 
tamer ones from their allegiance, and carried 
them off with them, as a band of gipsies might 
some infatuated school-boys. 

The Brent goose [Anser Bernicla) is also 
found, sometimes in immense numbers, and 
is still the object of popular superstition as in 
days of old. Thus an authority writes in 1 700 : 
"The Barnacles, or Cluk-Geese, bred in logs 
of wood floating on the sea, according to the 
common opinion, though some authors think 
they are bred of eggs like other fowls, but that 
the eggs are fastened to the logs by some 
glutinous matter which comes from the goose. 


Those who eat of them say they taste perfectly 
of fir, and are certainly bred in that sort of 
wood." They are certainly not very delicate 
eating. Hudibras confounds them with the 
Solan goose. 

Wild duck, teal, and widgeon, besides many 
others of the same family, frequent the inland 
lochs, and we have seen several hundred of 
them together on a favourite loch near Dalebeg. 

The wild swan [Cygnus ferus) may occa- 
sionally be seen sailing majestically on some 
quiet inland water, singly or in pairs. They 
cannot be said to be frequent, as a general 
rule, and being far less cautious and wary than 
the wild goose, have not the same chance to 
escape either observation or destruction. We 
once stalked a wild swan, on a quiet loch, with 
the dexterity of an Indian, and, after having 
reached a point of vantage behind a little 
rising knoll, over two miles of slippery, wet, 
splashy, mushy moorland, raised slowly, 
calmly, and steadily our head and fowling- 
piece. There, on the calm bosom of the loch, 
was reflected the graceful form and pure white 

BIRDS. 229 

swelling sail of a boy's boat. This was 

the only time we ever saw such a thing in the 
country. We reserved our fire for another 
occasion, which has not yet turned up, retiring 
from the field of action with all the dignity of 
the fox that lost its tail. 

The eider duck frequents the Flannan Isles, 
where it also breeds, coming occasionally to 
the western lochs of the Hebrides. On occa- 
sion of such visits it is often shot. 

Goosanders {Mergus Merganser) are by no 
means uncommon, more especially in the Uige 
lochs. Their breasts are greatly sought after 
for ladies' bonnets, and most deservedly so. 

The great northern diver [Colymbus glacialis) 
is everywhere common on the Atlantic coast of 
the Lews. Buchanan says of it, "The Bishop 
Carara, or Bunubhuachil, is larger than a 
goose." The ordinary name for it is " the 
bishop," and the natives aver that it retires 
when old to the freshwater lochs, where it can 
sustain itself more easily during the decay of its 
powers. Both its relations, the black and red- 
throated divers, are " companions of its solitude." 


The common guillemots [Uria trotle) are very- 
plentiful, and quite as stupid here as elsewhere ; 
we have shot them dozing on the waves at our 
door. But for interest and beauty their con- 
genors ( Uria grylle) the black guillemots or sea- 
pigeons, as they are here called, far surpass them. 
Of the strong elegant shape of the pigeons, 
their glossy black plumage, patched with white 
on the wings, and red legs, show them off to 
advantage. Alike strong on the wing and in 
the water, while displaying but a small surface 
to the action of the shot, and their close 
plumage throwing it readily off, they are more 
wary, more difficult to shoot, and more difficult 
to kill. These birds must cause terrible 
destruction amongst the fry of all kinds of 
fish. A common guillemot we shot in Decem- 
ber had several hundred young sand-eels in 
its crop. 

The razor-bill [Utamania torda) at certain 
seasons seems to supersede the black guille- 
mot as the common object of the sea-waves, 
the former being more common in summer, 
the latter in winter. 

BIRDS. 231 

The puffin [Fratercula Arctica) breeds in 
immense numbers in the Flannan Isles — that 
feathered sailors' home ; but we never met a 
specimen straying to the mainland. Gulls are 
innumerable around the fishing-stations, and 
act as the scavengers of the sea-shore ; many- 
interesting species make night hideous with 
their cries during a storm. 

The terns [Sterna hirundo) arrive about the 
latter end of May, when their graceful figures 
ever flit around the coast. Like the gulls they 
breed in great numbers on the small islands 
among the inland lochs. 

The gannet or Solan goose [Sula Bassana) 
is a constant visitor, and may any day be seen 
turning its heels up and dropping with a splash 
into the sea. Or, after the general discovery of 
a shoal of fish, you may see these birds hurrying 
away with heavy wing, gorged to the beak 
with the successful " guzzle " their weight and 
size had gained them in the struggle for 
existence. They were formerly mentioned as 
one of the wonders of Scotland, from " hatching 
their young with one foot," but they seem to 


have given over those careless habits to- 

The cormorant, scaraf, or scarf [Phala- 
crocorax Carbo) is another characteristic bird 
in Loch Roag. Their numbers are particularly 
great along this rocky, cave-haunted coast, 
standing on the black sea-girt rocks like sailors 
manning the yards. Numbers fell to our gun, 
and were eaten by the fishermen with relish. 
Their nests were made in the sea-caves and on 
the ledges of the high cliffs. 

The green shag [P. Graculus), a smaller and 
more elegant cormorant, is also numerous, and 
a score of them may be seen any day taking 
headers into the waves as you approach some 
spray-girt rock. Equally at home on sea or 
shore, it seeks its prey at great depths in the 
water, and, unless shot dead, generally escapes 
by skill and address in diving. 

In such a land the marine products, whether 
fish or fowl, are naturally the most liberally 
bestowed ; and, as the Lews is primarily a 
huge, unwieldly, tempest-ridden fishing-station, 
where the shoals are, there the seafowl follow. 


T N considering the various species of fish 
caught in the waters adjacent to the Lews, 
it may be well to premise that besides being 
exceedingly numerous they are of very superior 
excellence. Buchanan calls it "the first place 
in Britain for herrings and large whales, 
basking or sunfish, turbots, mackerels, catfish, 
etc." The sunfish here spoken of is the basking 
shark, formerly an important fishery in the 
west of Scotland, for the sake of its oil. 

Many species which are of little value else- 
where, are firm and well- tasted here, and no 
one who had tasted cod from the west of the 
Lews would compare it with the compara- 
tively " fushionless " fish caught in the con- 
tained lochs of the mainland. 


As we do not intend to treat the subject other 
than generally, a simple notice of the principal 
fish and their habitats is all that will be given 
in the order of their value. 

The herring of the Lews in its season is 
very good and of large size, but its reputation 
has been much injured in the market by too 
early fishing, before the fish is in proper 
condition. At one time the Loch Roag fishing 
in the west attracted boats from all the ports 
of Scotland, and was one of the most important 
in the country. As every loch herring has its 
distinctive character, the herring of Loch Roag 
were famous for great size and richness of 
quality, two hundred filling a barrel. From one 
of those unaccountable freaks to which this fish 
is given, and of which we have not been able 
to fathom the mystery, herring have only once 
appeared in quantity in this loch since the com- 
mencement of the century, although they pass 
round outside by Gallon Head in enormous 
shoals. Some attribute this to the destruction 
of the seaware, on which they deposited their 
spawn, in kelp-manufacture, but the supposition 

FISHES. 235 

cannot apply to the numberless instances in 
which herring have proved as fickle in their 
favours as " a fair ladye." Herring are seldom 
quite absent from the coast, a winter fishery 
to a trifling extent always existing, principally 
for the supply of bait. At the end of April we 
found that herring formed the contents of the 
stomachs of all fish captured off the western 
coast. Cod, haddock, ling, and turbot, all were 
supplied with them, as indeed they form, when 
on the coast, the "harvest of the sea" to most 
fish. Amongst a large number of saithe and 
lythe caught 30th September, the saithe were 
in especially good condition, being full of young 
herring. One contained 15 of 2 J inches long. 
We have observed herring fry to be most 
numerous along the west coast in August 
and September. 

Sprats have occasionally been taken in quan- 
tity in Stornoway Bay. 

The ling fish of this coast is unquestionably 
pre-eminent. We have seen one boat land a 
hundred fish, scarcely one under four feet long 
and many much over five, all in beautiful 


condition. They are finest and most numerous 
on the west and off the Butt, where they are 
caught in favourable seasons in incredible 
numbers, supplying hundreds of tons of cheap 
wholesome food for our large cities. A prac- 
tical fisherman can tell at once from the colour 
whether the fish have been feeding on the 
far banks or in shore, and anxiously watches 
the success of his neighbours to know when 
the shoals are likely to be on his own fishing- 
grounds. Unlike mankind, the fish come from 
the West ; and draw in shore towards the 

The cod is next in value to the ling, and 
is caught in much greater quantities in the 
Minch than in the western waters. This may 
partly arise from the west coast being greatly 
fished for cods by the English smacks, in the 
summer and autumn, when the Lewsmen are 
absent ; partly from the superior value of the 
ling fish to the men, inducing them to select 
the best ground and bait for the latter. 

Besides the common cod, the dorse or Baltic 
cod [Callarias] is here numerous, and in the 

FISHES. 237 

month of May we found it was the only species 
brought in by the fishermen from the far banks 
in 50 to 60 fathoms. This shows it is generally 
diffused throughout these seas, as at the same 
time we were taking smaller specimens in-shore. 
They were in capital condition, while the com- 
mon variety had been for some time worthless. 
Here they make no distinction between the two 
species, but as one fisherman remarked, "we 
consider it a good cod when it has a chink 
behind the head," which is one of its specific 
characteristics. We saw one about a foot long 
taken by the fly. 

The tursk or tosk (Brosmius vulgaris) is 
perhaps the finest of the Gadidse when fresh, 
being of most delicate flavour and superior 
to the cod. It is wholly a northern fish ; with 
a small cat-like head, a fine buff colour, and 
an almost continuous fin with a black stripe 
running down the back and round the tail 
to the belly. It seldom exceeds two feet in 
length, and is apparently a weak fish, as it is 
often thrown ashore by the force of the waves. 
The only gastronomical objection to this deli- 


cious fish is the extra number of bones, 
requiring a comparative anatomist to pilot his 
way through. 

The hake is a much inferior fish to any of 
those before mentioned, although by no means 
to be despised when fresh and well cooked. 
There is an extensive fishery in Stornoway Bay, 
and they occasionally follow the herring to the 

Haddocks are numerous in the Minch, and 
occasionally found in shoals in the west. They 
are most voracious feeders, like all the family, 
and we have taken two large whelk shells 
containing hermit crabs, several brittle stars, 
and a sand eel from one. "Anything to fill 
up " must have been its maxim when swallow- 
ing these wretched limy starfish. Finer fish 
than the Lews haddocks, which frequently 
weigh 8 to 10 lbs. cannot be desired. 
Rich and delicate, firm yet tender, they are 
really everything that a fish, with a properly 
balanced mind, ought to work up to as a 
worthy example. Our kindest remembrances 
are theirs. 

FISHES. 239 

The whiting. This delicate fish is occasionally 
to be had in numbers in sheltered sea lochs, 
such as the inner portion of Loch Roag, where 
it is enticed by mussel bait. The pollack 
or lythe is exceedingly numerous during the 
summer and autumn ; six to eight dozen are 
frequently taken in an evening by trolling. In 
a tideway, with the water well up and rising, 
and as close as possible to the rocks, you can't 
pull in the rod quick enough if the fish are on 
the feed. The young of this fish are often as 
brilliant in the colouring as goldfish. This 
occurs when they remain among the rich 
brown tangle, in place of coming in and out 
the loch with the shoal in the flow and 
ebb of tide. The colouring of all fish depends 
so much on the ground, that it is almost useless 
as a specific distinction ; while, at the same 
time, it is of greater value to the fishermen as a 
guide to their habitats. Coal-fish are numerous 
in the track of the herring, and as already 
mentioned their progeny in the shape of 
"cuddies/' and when more advanced as saithe, 
are innumerable all around the coast at certain 


seasons, affording an important supply of food 
to the inhabitants. The Loch Roag saithe are 
fat, firm in the flesh, and capital eating when 
i i to 2 lbs. weight. 

Next in importance to the Gadidae comes 
the flounder family, the various species of 
which are alike valuable in themselves and 
as bait for other victims. Of these the plaice 
may be said to be most numerous, and are caught 
in enormous quantities all round the coast to be 
used in the ling fisheries, for which they are 
favourite bait. The halibut [Hippoglossus vul- 
garis) is also caught in great numbers, and 
out of Stornoway is principally used as bait, 
although the head of a halibut of medium size 
is a dish to set before a king. When it weighs 
from 70 to 300 lbs. it becomes coarse and soft 
in the flesh, and is then neither suitable for 
bait, nor a delicacy for the table. The turbot 
[Rhombus maxtmus), that prince of flat-fish, is 
caught occasionally in numbers ; but as it is 
not a favourite fish with the natives, from being 
too dry, and is most commonly cut up for bait, 
it is difficult to arrive at a correct knowledge of 

FISHES. 241 

quantity or distribution. We found turbot roe 
fully developed on the 29th April. In the 
west we never paid more than a shilling for 
a good turbot, worth ten shillings in the 
Glasgow market. 

Flounders [P.flesus] frequent the sandy bays 
so common around the island, and are of excel- 
lent quality ; those of Broad Bay being par- 
ticularly renowned. 

Dabs (P. limandd) are also common and well- 
flavoured. The lemon dabs [P. microcephalics) 
are occasionally found, and are much superior 
in -flavour and quality to the foregoing species. 
They are far the finest of the genus Platessa, 
and more resemble Rhombus both in appear- 
ance and reality. The largest we caught was 
sixteen inches. It was well filled with roe in 

Muller's topknot [Rhombus punctatus) was 
only represented to our eyes in one specimen 
about five inches long, taken on the long lines. 
It seemed unknown to the fishermen, and must 
be exceedingly rare in these seas. 

When treating of flat-fish we may remark 

242 LEW SI AN A. 

that upon Stornoway Bay being trawled by the 
cutter, several soles were procured. Personally 
we never saw one in the country, but our 
authority for the statement is unquestionable. 

Passing on to the skates and rays we find 
some species exceedingly abundant. Couch 
affirms that they become less numerous as we 
proceed north, but we have seen boat after 
boat come in laden with them, both in the west 
and in Stornoway, and indeed so plentiful were 
they that they were selling in the latter town 
at \\d. and even id. apiece. Weight for weight 
we suspect that the skate captured off the Lews 
would hold their own with almost any other 
genus, and, as they are all consumed among the 
natives, prove a highly important element in 
the daily diet of the people. The commonest 
species are Rata baits , R. Oxyrhynchus, and 
R. clavata, or thornback, here known as 
" Sonan." The first named, the blue or grey 
skate of the mainland, frequently come to land 
upwards of five feet across the wings. Their 
livers, rich in oil, sometimes become so buoyant 
as to prevent them descending should they come 

FISHES. 243 

to the surface, where they are secured by the 
fishermen when helpless. We have seen livers 
frequently 10 to 12 lbs. weight, and in one in- 
stance weighed one of 1 7 lbs. full of the richest 
oil. Besides these species already mentioned, 
R. circularis and R. shagrinea were observed 
by us amid the spoil of the boats on the beach. 

We cut an egg from R. clavata at the end of 
March, the capsule fully formed, and filled with 
yellowish matter. It would probably have been 
deposited in a few days. By the way, why so 
many far-fetched derivations of the word ray ? 
May it not be derived from the flesh being dis- 
posed in rays, the most striking characteristic 
when brought to the table ? 

Among the most interesting captures in the 
Lews waters is the six-gilled shark [Notidanus 
griseus), of which Couch only mentions two 
specimens as obtained hitherto on the coast of 
Britain ; while at least four individuals, measur- 
ing 9 to 12 feet in length, came under our own 
notice. Two of these we examined. These fish 
are said to be by no means uncommon here, and 
are very quiet when captured, according to the 


fishermen, who agree in this with Couch. Al- 
though a bottom shark they occasionally come 
to the surface, and a fisherman informed me he 
had seen one come up and bite a ling in two. 
They are exceedingly feeble for such large 
fish, and, excepting the teeth, have nothing 
harder than cartilage in their structure. Even 
the great cartilaginous jaws and vertebrae are 
so soft as to be cut with a knife like cheese ; 
while the skin was also thin, soft, and pliant, 
but feeling rough when rubbed against the 
grain. At a cursory glance the most con- 
spicuous points are — the large, open eyes, seem- 
ingly without lids, the pupils of a brilliant 
emerald green, brighter than the dog-fish ; the 
distinguishing six gills ; the saw-like teeth no 
less observable ; and blunt rounded head. The 
larger of the two we examined measured 9 feet 
4 inches long, the fluke of the tail being 2 feet 
9 inches ; the liver, rich in oil, weighing 52 lbs. 
From the weakness of the structure we were 
inclined to believe the fish immature, but dis- 
section did not bear out this idea. 

Specimens of the white shark [Car charms) 

FISHES. 245 

are often brought in by the boats, but seldom 
of a greater size than 4 to 6 feet in length. 
That is considered quite large enough by the 
men, as they fight most desperately, and are 
dangerous, troublesome, and valueless captures. 
These fish are mostly taken in the winter. We 
were informed of a capture of a spinous shark 
[Echinorhinus spinosus) in Stornoway Bay some 
years ago. It resembled the second figure in 
Yarrell, and gave several barrels of oil. The 
spines being such a distinguishing charac- 
teristic, there can scarcely be any mistake as 
to the species. 

The picked dog-fish [Acanthzas vulgaris) are 
not numerous, but, in their season, simply 
innumerable. They eat the bait, they eat the 
cod and ling, they devour each other, in their 
ravenous fury. They chase the capture on its 
way to the boat, they wait for the bait as it 
leaves the gunwale ; and the whole sea 
seems alive with active, indomitable, voracious 
savages — like land-sharks round a silver mine, 
or lawyers over the bones of a company. We 
have seen a single boat throw ashore eighty 


to one hundred bones of ling, nothing but the 
back bone left hanging to the head, as a Tartar 
butcher would leave the skeleton of a sheep. 
Even if a ling or cod be not consumed, it 
is ruined for the market, as the first point 
attacked by these pests is the liver, destroying 
the " amenity " of the fish. Fancy countless 
hordes of consumptive dogs hungering after 
cod-liver oil, and hunting the sea in packs to 
obtain it, and you have some idea of this 
scourge of the sea. As these viviparous fish 
produce their young every month, sending them 
into the world six to nine inches long, and 
able immediately to follow the rapacious habits 
of their parents, the breed is not likely soon 
to die out. Yarrell gives June to November 
as their breeding season, but we have found 
the young in numbers with the umbilical sac, 
dropped after the capture of the parents in 
March and April ; and all the fishermen 
agree that they are found with young at all 

The rough hound [Squale roussette\ here 
named " Blind fish," from its habit of closing 

FISHES. 247 

the eyes when captured, by drawing up the 
lid from below over the eye, is the only other 
species of dog-fish we have observed. The 
liver is large, and much lighter coloured than 
that of the picked dog. At the end of Sep- 
tember, we found two egg-cases ready for 
expulsion from the Fallopian tubes, two large 
eggs entering the tubes, and a large quantity 
of eggs in all stages of development. This fish 
is never eaten by the people. 

Gurnard, at certain seasons, take the bait 
freely, and the common gurnard has been 
known occasionally to take the fly. 

Mackerel are not unknown even in consider- 
able shoals at certain times. 

Grey mullet frequent the coast more or less 
all the year, but are rarely captured. About 
Bernera, Loch Roag, they congregate in large 
shoals ; but the fishermen do not know the 
English way of securing them by a false buoyed 
rope in front of the net. 

Conger eels supply one of the principal baits 
for the ling fishery, but constant fishing seems 
to be decreasing the supply. Oil made from 


the fine white interior fat is considered by the 
natives superior to cod-liver oil. 

Of the fish not sufficiently important to 
influence the commerce or economy of the 
country, the list is not so extensive as might 
have been expected. 

The gemmeous dragonet, or gowdy [Calliony- 
mus lyra), was taken several times during our 
stay. One of these beautiful skulpins was nine 
inches long ; the head resplendent with golden 
yellow and streaked with fine lilac — this latter 
colour extending in parallel lines along its 
otherwise silvery sides ; belly silvery. The 
fins, dorsal and anal, were also lined with 
silver and lilac, and iridescent, indeed, like the 
whole fish. The pectorals were delicate wing- 
like appendages, quite transparent. Except 
the plated head of its order, and the extended 
spine of the dorsal fin, which reaches to the 
end of the body, and gives the title of dragonet 
to the strange-looking creature, the fish is 
almost transparent gelatine. Gold, sapphire, 
and mother-of-pearl contend for pre-eminence 
in its composition, and its eyes are a brilliant 

FISHES. 249 

iris, and yet this brilliant beau from the great 
deep is " only a gowdy " to the vulgar, and 
attracts no more respect than the over-dressed 
dandy bedizened with the splendours of Oxford 
Street. When fresh on the hook, it exhibits 
great vitality, and makes desperate and con- 
tinuous exertions, its colours flashing like a 
prism in the sun ; and it seems more like a 
waif from the shining Orient, than a chilly 
body from a chilly element in a chilly clime. 

We only saw one specimen of the common 
skulpin [Gieronymus Dracunculus) taken on the 
spiller with lugs. 

When rambling among the rocks on the 
shore, and diving into the treasures of the 
pools amid the varied alga?, the principal fish 
brought to light are naturally the cotti. These 
are numerous, and often reach large dimensions, 
thrusting their huge armed heads into all sorts 
of odd corners. The bearded rocklings, both 
Motella tricirrhata and quinquecirrhata, follow ; 
the latter we have never seen longer than 
seven inches — when it was full of roe and 
evidently a mature fish. The largest M. tricir- 


rhata we obtained, was from the Flannan Isles ; 
it was a very handsome fish, 15 J inches in 
length, and contained fragments of young 
lobsters, which Crustacea abound there. This 
fish was taken in the lobster creels from up- 
wards of twenty fathoms, and no doubt inhabits 
deep water ; although we do not consider with 
Couch that a cod, taken in forty fathoms with 
one in its stomach, is a proof that tricirrhata 
inhabits that depth of water. We have seen 
a ling liver, with a small hook quite fresh 
sticking in it, that must have been swallowed in 
twenty fathoms; while, within an hour or two, 
it was captured with the large hook in forty to 
sixty fathoms. 

Gunnel fish [Gunnellus vulgaris) are numerous 
in these rocky pools, and are well named 
butter-fish, for slippery customers they are, and 
afford great amusement to the collector. The 
largest we procured measured 7! inches long; 
and, when this size, their fins, both dorsal and 
anal, have very sharp spines, with which they 
can give a painful wound in their struggles : 
some were entirely free from spots. The little 

FISHES. 251 

weevers [Trachinus viper a, Yar.) are most 
dangerous frequenters of these pools, the wound 
they inflict being exceedingly severe. We 
understand the larger weever is also found, 
but have never met it. 

Standing on a seaweed - covered rock, the 
observer may frequently meet the upturned 
snout of the fifteen-spined stickleback [Gas- 
terosteus spinachid), as it approaches to root 
among the seaware. This is one of the 
indomitable little fish that builds its nest in 
the forest of algae, and defends it with con- 
stancy and courage. The only other member 
of the stickleback family we met with was 
the three-spined [Gasterosteus spinulosus\ which 
we found both in the fresh and salt water 

See that long seaweed in motion, while the 
others are scarcely influenced by the rippling 
waves ; how it twists and twines, as if it 
were a living creature ! Why, it is a living 
creature — the strange sea-serpent, sea-kangaroo, 
or whatever you may please to term the family 
of pipe-fish [Syngnathus), various species of 


which pouch - fish glide among, and climb 
around, the stems of the seaware". Nature 
seems ever experimenting, like a chemist in 
his laboratory, and as frequently produces some 
"beautiful experiment," which is yet too deli- 
cate to bear adoption among the multifarious, 
rude life-manufactories. Thus these external 
pouches, as in the kangaroo and the penguin, 
have not been found compatible with the 
highest development among birds, animals, or 

The paddle cock, or lump-sucker [Cyclopterus 
lumpus), may occasionally be found ; and its 
masses of roe, of a beautiful pinkish tinge and 
firm consistency, are not uncommon on the 
shore. The cock has a reddish belly, and is 
considered good eating ; but the female, which 
is bluish on the belly, is not made use of 

We were informed of the capture of a great 
number of John Dorys of late years, but never 
saw any, nor were they made use of by the 

At Barvas a sturgeon was taken some years 

FISHES. 253 

ago ; but it is as rare a visitant to the Hebrides 
as to any other portion of the kingdom. The 
fishermen told us they had captured a sunfish 
[OrthagoriscuSy Yar.) of about 200 lbs. weight, 
which they had brought into Carloway Bay, 
and cut up for the oil-bearing liver, some 
years ago. 

The angler, or sea-cat, as it is here called 
[Lophius piscatorius), is frequently secured. On 
one occasion we caught a specimen of the 
gluttons 2 ft. 9 in. in length, which had 
swallowed a conger of its own length, both 
coming up on the hook. The conger was still 
in good condition, although it had evidently 
been in the stomach some time, and the work 
of digestion seemed not to have commenced. 
It is indeed a most sluggish fish ; and its 
loose, flabby skin, huge mouth, together with 
the stomach occupying the whole available 
space, point to an easy-going, gormandizing 
existence, supposed to be sustained by its 
angling appendages. 

Before we leave the fishes, however, we must 
finish with a much more interesting fish — the 


beautiful sand-launce or sand-eel, both species 
of which [Ammodytes lancea and A. tobianus) are 
found in quantity by those skilled in the capture. 
Aided by their horny snouts, they bury them- 
selves in the sands of the glorious Hebridean 
bays, whence they may be taken by running 
backward, drawing a blunted reaping-hook 
through the sand.- The moment it touches a 
victim, the fish must be pounced upon. Tyros 
either cut the eel in two, or allow it time 
to escape. They are equally good as a delicacy 
for the table and as a tempting bait for more 
important prey, their silvery bodies showing 
well in the water. In September, they formed 
the only contents of the stomachs of the many 
lythe we captured. 

Yes ! there are lots of fish in the Lews 
waters, and lots of fishermen on the Lews 
shores ; and when energy, and capital, and 
science are tired of wonderful mines at the 
ends of the earth, and suicidal railways in the 
middle, it will, no doubt, supply a far greater 
amount of nourishment than it has yet done 
to the wearied brains of our teeming cities. 



TT WHETHER the earliest inhabitants of the 
Lews are named Dicaledones, Albanich, 
or Picts, it seems generally admitted that they 
were a pure Celtic race. 

After continued inroads from the Norsemen 
over a lengthened period, the islands were 
conquered by Harald Harfager in 888. The 
following year they rose in rebellion, but 
were again crushed by a Vikingr named Ketil, 
who was king of the isles till his death. In 938 
Aulaf Mac Sitric, son of the Danish king of 
Northumberland, was king of the isles ; he was 
succeeded by Maccus Mac Arailt Mac Sitric — 
Gofra Mac Arailt, another king, dying in 


In 990 Sigurd, Earl of Orkney, conquered the 
Hebrides and held them through his lieutenant, 
Gilli. As there is mention of one Ragnal Mac 
Gofra, King of the Isles, who died in 1004, while 
Sigurd was again in possession of the isles in 
1014, there is in all probability some obscurity, 
caused by rivals having occasionally divided 
the northern from the southern Hebrides, as 
afterwards occurred, each retaining the title of 
" King of the Isles." 

In 1034 Earl Thorfin, son of Sigurd, recon- 
quered the islands, which seemed to have fallen 
from the grasp of the Norsemen after the de- 
structive battle of Clontarf. On his death, in 
1064, they passed under the rule of an Irish 
prince, Diarmed Mac Maelnambo, who died in 
1072. Next we find Godred, the son of Sitric, 
who reigned in the Isle of Man ; then his son 
Fingal, who was dethroned about 1077 by a 
Norse chieftain, Godred Crovan, son of Harald 
the Black. Godred Crovan was in turn expelled 
by the Norse king Magnus Barefoot, who placed 
his son Sigurd on the throne in 1093. Upon 
Sigurd succeeding his father as King of Norway 


about 1 103, Lagman, son of Godred Crovan, was 
elected by the islanders : he afterwards died a 
pilgrim at Jerusalem. 

Lagman was followed by a kinsman of Mur- 
chard O'Brien, King of Ireland, in mi, who 
was expelled in 11 13. He was succeeded by 
Olave the Red, youngest son of Godred Crovan, 
who enjoyed an unaccountably peaceable and 
successful reign of forty years, and was suc- 
ceeded by his son, Godred the Black, in 1154. 
Olave's daughter Ragnhildis was married to 
Somerled, Prince of Argyle, and thus originated 
the Macdonalds, the family best known histori- 
cally as Lords of the Isles. Godred the Black 
retained Man and the North Isles, while So- 
merled took possession of the South Isles. 
Reginald, the son of Godred the Black, was 
King of Man and the Isles in 12 10, and it 
remained in the family of Godred until the 
death of Magnus, King of Man, in 1265. 

It was in this year that the Western Isles 
passed from the kingdom of Norway under the 
allegiance of the King of Scotland ; and while 
the remaining portions of the sub-kingdom of 



the isles were divided among the descendants of 
Somerled, the Lews was conferred upon the 
Earl of Ross. Thus the long subjection of the 
Lews to Norway, extending over several cen- 
turies, ended with the cession of the Isles to 
Scotland in 1266. 

Lewis seems to have remained in the posses- 
sion of the Earls of Ross until it was confirmed 
by David II. to John of Isla in 1344. It thus 
once more became a portion of a species of 
sub-kingdom, which shortly afterwards compre- 
hended all the territories formerly held by the 
Norse jarls, or kings, in fealty to the King of 
Norway. From this time the Lewis chiefs were 
vassals to the house of Isla. 

In 1380 Donald, son of John of Isla and 
grandson of Robert II. by the mother's side, 
succeeded to his father. By marriage he claimed 
and secured also the earldom of Ross. In 1420 
Alexander, third Lord of the Isles, entered in 
possession, and by the death of his mother in 
1429 also became Earl of Ross. He was twice 
imprisoned during the life of James I. for re- 
bellious practices, and was succeeded in 1449 


by his son John. After many vicissitudes John 
was forfeited and deprived of his titles and 
estates in May, 1493 ; from which date the 
various clans which constituted his lordship, 
including the Macleods of Lewis, were indepen- 
dent of any superior but the Crown. 


According to Martin, Lewis is so called from 
"Leog," which, in the Irish language (Gaelic), 
signifies water. It is also derived from the 
Norwegian Liod Huts y windy house ; or, fol- 
lowing later authorities, it is Leod's Land, or 
land of the sons of Leod or Loyd, the eldest 
son of King Olave the Black, brother of Mag- 
nus, last King of Man and the Isles. Such is 
the received genealogy of the earliest-known 
chiefs. Leod's son, Torquil, was progenitor of 
the Lews branch, or Siol Torquil, whose pos- 
sessions shortly included Rasay Island, Water- 
ness in Skye, and Assint, Coigach, and Gairloch 
on the mainland. 

Assint was acquired by Torquil Macleod, a 


younger son of the Lews chief, who married the 
heiress. He was the third chief of the Lews, 
and a grandson of the original Torquil ; and 
the first charter of his house was the confirma- 
tion to him of this barony by a royal grant in 
the reign of King David II. Previous to the 
Macleods, the Lews was probably held by 
lieutenants of the island kings ; as the popular 
belief, that the Macnaughtons were chiefs of 
the Lews for three hundred years before the 
Macleods, seems a complete misapprehension. 
Indeed, it is only in the same reign in which 
the Macleods obtained their first charter that 
the Macnaughtons obtained a grant of portion 
of the island of Lews, when the possessions of 
John of the Isles were forfeited. 

According to a native historian, this Torquil, 
the third chief, acted as conciliator between the 
minor chiefs of the Morrisons of Ness and the 
Macaulays of Uige. This would place the battle 
between these two small clans — which was fought 
near Barvas — in the thirteenth century, but would 
scarcely coincide with the understanding that 
the clan Macaulay only date from 15 13. We 


are also told that " the year after Torquil be- 
came chief of the Lews, he and the Macnaugh- 
ton were proceeding in their birlins, or large 
boats, to Stornoway, when Macleod ran the 
boat of Macnaughton down in the Sound of 
Jaunt, and allowed the whole crew to drown." 
By this simple and effective arrangement, he 
acquired an undisputed right to the whole 
island, and it remained in his possession. 

The next chief after Torquil was one Ruari, 
whose younger son, Tormod, held Assint in 
vassalage; while in 1493 his grandson, another 
Ruari, whose eldest son was slain in 1481 at the 
battle of the Bloody Bay, was head of the clan. 
He was one of those chiefs who made their 
submission to James IV. in 1494. Ruari's 
second son was Torquil, who married Kathe- 
rine, daughter of the first Earl of Argyle. As 
Torquil was thus connected with Donald Dhu, 
whose mother was also a daughter of Argyle, 
he received and protected him when he escaped 
from prison, and, braving forfeiture, espoused 
his cause. He had previously, by a charter 
under the Great Seal, been granted, in August, 


1498, the office of bailliary, and eighty merks 
of the lands of Trotternish in Skye, on the 
ground of it having been formerly held by him 
under the Lords of the Isles. This was imme- 
diately afterwards revoked. 

Although he was nominally forfeited in 1502, 
the combination of the island chiefs was not 
broken until 1506, when Torquil, as the prin- 
cipal remaining insurgent, was attacked in his 
castle at Stornoway. The castle was taken, and 
the whole island subjugated. 

After this the Lews was restored to Malcolm, 
a brother of Torquil, in 1 5 1 1 . This Malcolm 
seems to have been little less turbulent than 
his predecessors, as we find him one of the 
principal adherents of Sir Donald of Lochalsh 
during the five years' rebellion. The Macleods 
of Lews and their kinsmen of Rasay also ac- 
companied Sir Donald when he passed south to 
attack John Mac Ian of Ardnamurchan. They 
defeated the latter at Craig-an-airgid, or the 
Silver Craig, in Morven, slaying him and his 
two sons, John Sunoirtich and Angus, with 
many of their followers. Malcolm's second son, 


Malcolm Garbh, was the progenitor of the Mac- 
leods of Rasay. 

Malcolm's nephew, John, son of Torquil, who 
had been expressly excluded in the charter of 
restoration, seized the Lews on his uncle's 
death about 1528, and held it during his life. 
In 1530 he was one of the island chiefs who 
sent offers of submission to the king, on occa- 
sion of the rebellion of Alexander of Isla. 
Through a compromise with Donald Gorme, 
John was succeeded by his cousin, Ruari, son 
of Malcolm, popularly known as Old Rory. In 
May, 1539, Ruari, in virtue of this agreement, 
joined Donald Gorme in an attack upon Trotter- 
nish, in order to recover it from the Dunvegan 
family; but, passing over to the mainland, the 
expedition came to an untimely end shortly 
after through the death of the laird of Sleat. 

Ruari first married Barbara Stewart, a 
daughter of Lord Methven, by whom he had 
one son, Torquil Eir, or the heir, to distinguish 
him from the succeeding sons of the same name 
by other wives. This son reached manhood, 
but perished in a storm along with 200 men, 


on his way to his property of Vaternish, in 
Skye. His mother died six months after his 
birth, and in another half year the chief mar- 
ried Janet, Lady Reah, relict of the Mackay, 
and daughter of the chief of Kintail. 

By this second wife Ruari had another son, 
Torquil, afterwards known as Torquil Connanach, 
from having been reared in Strathconnan. Lady 
Reah, however, eloped with a cousin of Ruari, 
John Macgillechallum, of Rasay, when she 
was divorced by the Lews chief, who at the 
same time disowned her son, Connanach, as 
being her offspring by Morrison, the Breve or 
Celtic judge of the Lews. This was the occa- 
sion of a protest in 1566, taken by Donald 
Gormeson, claiming to be heir of Lewis, with 
the sanction of the chief, on the ground of 
an alleged confession of Hugheoun, the Brew, 
that Torquil Connanach was his son. Lady 
Reah bore Rasay several sons and a daughter, 
but, after her death, the chief and all his sons 
by her were murdered by Ruari Mac Allan 
Macleod, of Gerloch, brother of his second wife, 
at a feast on the Island of Isay, in Waterness. 


His second wife having thus eloped, Ruari 
married a daughter of Lauchlan Maclean, of 
Dowart, by whom he had two sons, Torquil 
Dhu and Tormad. Ruari had thus three sons 
named Torquil by three separate wives ; the 
first was drowned, the third executed at Coigach 
by the Mackenzies ; and the second, repudiated 
by his father, allied himself with his mother's 
relatives, the Mackenzies of Kintail, who used 
him as a catspaw to obtain possession of the 
Lews for themselves. 

Besides these four legitimate, there were five 
illegitimate sons. Two of these, Tormad 
Uigach and Murdo, backed the claim of 
Torquil Connanach as heir ; while three, Donald, 
Rory Oig, and Neil, sided with Torquil Dhu. 

This old Ruari was exceedingly turbulent 
and lawless, offering an example which his 
sons were not slow to follow. In 1539 
he was engaged with Donald Gorme, of Skye, 
against Lord Kintail, and in 1540 we find 
that James V. took him captive to Edinburgh, 
on his visit to the isles, but liberated him on 
giving hostages. In April, 1555, the Queen 


Regent, Mary of Guise, commenced a process 
of treason against him, but in September of 
the same year he was granted a respite ; and 
we next find him specially summoned to join 
the Earl of Athole, in 1565, against the insur- 
gents under Argyle. 

During the bloody disputes between Torquil 
Connanach, assisted by Kintail and Mackenzie 
of Gerloch, on the one hand ; and Ruari, of the 
Lews, assisted by Donald Gorme of Sleat, 
Macleod of Assint, and Ruari Mac Allan, on 
the oth'er, old Ruari fell into the hands of 
Connanach, who kept him prisoner four years. 
In 1572, however, before the Earl of Mar and 
Privy Council, he acknowledged Connanach as 
his son and heir, and was thereupon liberated. 
The turbulent chieftain was no sooner free than 
he revoked the deed of acknowledgment, but 
was again in 1576 obliged to accept Connanach 
as his heir, before Regent Morton and a Privy 
Council, bestowing upon him the district of 
Coigach for his maintenance. 

In 1585 the feud again broke out afresh. 
Tormad Uigach was slain by Donald, who was 


in return captured by Murdo, but escaping 
seized his captor, and imprisoned him in 
Stornoway. Connanach now espoused the 
cause of his supporter, and, capturing the 
castle of Stornoway, again imprisoned the old 
Lewis chief, placing him in the castle under the 
custody of his son John. After a time Rory 
Oig retook the castle, killed Connanach's heir, 
and liberated old Ruari, who remained in posses- 
sion till his death. Torquil, in the meantime, 
seized his natural brother, Donald, and executed 
him at Dingwall. 

The piratical conduct of himself and natural 
sons towards all vessels touching at the Lews, 
was one reason for Ruari's outlawry, and gave 
occasion for those attempts at colonisation and 
civilisation made by the Fife adventurers. These 
attempts, as will afterwards appear, were frus- 
trated by the combined efforts of the islanders 
and the Mackenzies, who looked upon the Lews 
as their peculiar prey. 

On the death of this old freebooter, the chief- 
ship fell to Torquil Dhu, who had married a 
sister of Macleod of Harris. But Connanach, 


aided by the Mackenzies, again invaded the 
Lews, took the castle of Stornoway, and, with 
the aid of the Morrisons of Ness, or Clann-Mhic- 
Ghille-Moir, secured Torquil Dhu himself. They 
then carried him to Coigach, in July, 1597, to 
ornament a tree at the end of the castle. 

Torquil Dhu was chief of the Lews at the 
time of the expedition against the isles in 1596, 
when the Lews was withdrawn from the list of 
disobedient clans, as both Dhu and Connanach 
agreed to submit their claims to the authorities. 
The Government decided in favour of Connanach, 
but Torquil Dhu, who had a following of 700 to 
800 men, not only kept what he previously pos- 
sessed, but ravaged Coigach and Lochbroom. 

Torquil Dhu having been destroyed greatly 
through the treachery of the Breive, who had 
enticed him on board a vessel at Ness, and then 
handed him over to Connanach, the Breive and 
his whole clan were attacked by Neil Macleod, 
and nearly extirpated. Although a Celtic insti- 
tution, this Ness Brew, Breive, or Brehon, seems 
to have been adopted by the Norsemen, both 
from the name Morrison, which is Scandinavian, 


as well as from the fact that his jurisdiction 
extended over the Hebrides from Isla to the 
Butt of Lews, and over the opposite coast to 
the Ord of Caithness. This was the acknow- 
ledged Norse kingdom of the isles. 

With the judge's family the records of the 
Lews and adjacent country were destroyed, 
with the exception of a few scraps carried to 
the mainland by some of the fugitives. 

Normand or Tormad, brother of Torquil Dhu, 
who had long been held a prisoner by Kintail, 
was now liberated, that he might be the means 
of expelling the Fife colonists. These latter 
had gained a firm footing on the island, but 
on the appearance of the legitimate heir, the 
natives rose in a body under the leadership of 
Neil, expelled the colonists, and maintained 
Tormad as the leader of the Siol Torquil until 
1605. In this year he gave himself up, on 
the return of the Fife men, and never came 
back to the Lews. 

The antagonism of Neil Macleod, who alone 
remained to oppose them, at length drove the 
colonists out of the island ; when they sold 


their title to Kintail. Thus strengthened, Mac- 
kenzie was stimulated to push his claims to 
the utmost. Accordingly, armed with the 
deeds obtained from Torquil Connanach, whose 
daughter the Tutor of Kintail, uncle of the 
heir, had married, and the still better cre- 
dentials of facility for invasion and pacifica- 
tion, Mackenzie lost no time in securing this 
extensive property. The king freed him from 
all liability to other military service, that 
he might direct all his force to this purpose, 
seeing the purchase of the title from the Fife 
adventurers had legalised Kintail's hitherto 
shadowy claims. The price paid the broken 
colony for their title was equal to eighty 
pounds of our present money, being the esti- 
mated value of the oak woods of Letterew ; 
and to the woods was added permission 
to erect some furnaces on the mainland 

The only resolute enemy opposed to Kintail 
was Neil, the natural son of old Ruari, who 
maintained an irregular warfare for some years ; 
but he was at length captured and induced 


to proceed to Edinburgh, where he was ex- 

When Cromwell's troops overran Scotland, 
they took possession of the Lews and fortified 
the whole point of Stornoway, Kintail having 
previously risen in rebellion. This fortification 
they garrisoned with fourteen hundred men ! 
Earl Kenneth, Lord Kintail, who had always 
been a sincere Royalist, attacked and routed 
the defenders with great slaughter; but as 
Charles II. succeeded to the throne shortly 
thereafter, the Lewsmen escaped the otherwise 
inevitable punishment. 

Although there are the remains of many 
ancient chapels and nunneries in the Lews, 
evidencing a considerable population in a com- 
parative state of quiet, the condition of the 
inhabitants must have been very degraded 
towards the end of the possession of the 
Macleods. "It is told of Farquhar Macrae, 
born 1580, who entered the Church, that on 
his first visit to the island of Lews, he had 
to baptize the whole population under forty 
years of age." This points to a wretchedly 


disturbed state of the island during the latter 
end of the sixteenth century, and towards the 
close of old Ruari's chieftainship ; while, if 
religion was in abeyance during these times 
of strife, those which followed sunk the inhabi- 
tants who remained still deeper in degeneracy. 
Traditions of Saxon thraldom, and Southern 
notions of property in land, replaced the simple 
ties that bound the clansman to "the head of 
his house." We get occasional glimpses from 
travellers of steady retrogression, until we 
arrive at the time when population was a stock 
to be sold with the farm, and kept down by 
exportation to suit the theories of the purchaser. 

For a time, after the island came into the 
hands of the Seaforth family, little is heard 
of it. After the Restoration in 1660 it remained 
quietly in the hands of its Royalist chiefs, 
and although Seaforth was forfeited in 1751 
for his share in the rebellion, the Lews was 
doubtless too distant to suffer. 

The first careful account we have of the 
country and people is from Martin, who visited 
the Lews the beginning of last century, and 


he gives us no such hopeless account of their 
condition as we get from the Rev. J. Lane 
Buchanan, about the end of it. In Martin's time 
the crofters seemed comparatively well off : given 
to dancing, singing, and drinking home-brewed 
ale; and leading a free, if semi-pagan, semi- 
pastoral, and wholly barbarous existence. The 
following extract from Martin will not be 
out of place, seeing his work is now within 
the reach of few. " The inhabitants (of Long 
Island) had an ancient custom to sacrifice to 
a sea god called Shony at Hallowtide, in the 
manner following. The inhabitants round the 
Island come to the church of St. Mulvay, having 
each man his provision along with him. Every 
family furnished a peck of malt, and this was 
brewed into ale : one of their number was 
pickt out to wade into the sea up to the 
middle, and carrying a cup of ale in his hand 
standing still in that posture, cry'd out with 
a loud voice saying, Shony > I give you this cup 
of ale, hoping that you'll be so kind as to send 
us plenty of seaware for enriching our ground 
the ensuing year ; and so threw the cup of ale 



into the sea. This was performed in the night- 
time; at his return to land they all went to 
church, where there was a candle burning upon 
the altar; and then standing silent for a little 
time, one of them gave a signal, at which 
the candle was put out, and immediately all 
of them went to the fields, where they fell 
a-drinking their ale, and spent the remainder 
of the night in dancing, singing, &c." 

The country was at this time sparsely popu- 
lated, and the game, fish, and right of pasturage 
free to a great extent ; so that, with a few acres 
under crop, the necessaries of life were never 
wanting. But the "tacksmen/' or farmers, 
gradually extended their power, and the internal 
peace of the country brought its own evils. 
The clansmen, who had formerly to be con- 
ciliated as the military support of the chief, 
were now only treated as thralls to provide 
for his lavish expenditure. The chiefs, who 
were only guardians of the country for their 
people, gradually exercised the same proprietor- 
ship over their kinsmen as the Norman barons 
over their conquered Saxon dependants. Thus 


the tacksmen now paid heavy rental for their 
enlarged farms, and increased their stocks to 
the impoverishment of the cotters or subtenants, 
until abject necessity drove the latter into their 

The Rev. John Lane Buchanan, who was 
intimately acquainted with the country from 
1782 to 1790, writes as follows: — "It is an 
invariable custom, and established by a kind 
of tacit compact among the tacksmen and 
inferior lairds, to refuse, with the most invin- 
cible obstinacy, an asylum, on their ground, to 
any subtenant without the recommendation of 
his landlord, or, as he is very properly called 
in those parts, his master. The wretched out- 
cast, therefore, has no alternative but to sink 
down into the situation and rank of an unfortu- 
nate and numerous class of men known under 

the name of Scallags The scallag, 

whether male or female, is a poor being, who, 
for mere subsistence, becomes a predial slave 
to another, whether a subtenant, a tacksman, 
or a laird. The scallag builds his own hut 
with sods and boughs of trees; and if he is 


sent from one part of the country to another, 
he moves off his sticks, and, by means of 

these, forms a new hut in another place 

Five days in the week he works for his 
master ; the sixth is allowed to himself for the 
cultivation of some scrap of land, on the edge 
of some moor or mess ; on which he raises a 
little kail, or coleworts, barley, and potatoes. 
These articles, boiled up together in one mash, 

and often without salt, are his only food 

He is allowed coarse shoes, with tartan hose, 
and a coarse coat, with a blanket or two for 
clothing." He devotes some space to a com- 
parison between negroes on plantations and 
the Hebridean scallags, much to the advan- 
tage of the negro in every detail of treat- 

Again : " Formerly a Highlander would have 
drawn his dirk against even a laird, if he had 
subjected him to the indignity of a blow. At 
present, any tyrannical tacksman, in the absence 
of the laird or lord, whose presence alone can 
enforce good order and justice, may strike a 
scallag, and even a subtenant, with perfect 


impunity." It may be questioned whether 
these scallags were a recent institution, as 
the Celtic races of Scotland seem always to 
have had a race of helots subject to the free 
vassals ! 

The day of the tacksmen and sublairds 
did not last long. After acting as instru- 
ments in crushing out all spirit from the sub- 
tenants, they found kinship and traditional 
service were not reckoned when opposed to' 
mainland gold, and none of those families 
whose scions formerly came back from France 
accomplished cavaliers can hold their places 

It has been argued that the evidences of 
former extensive cultivation in the west of the 
Lews proves a considerable population; while 
Buchanan, on the other hand, remarks that the 
absence of partridges, blackcock, or many of 
the granivorous fowls, is a strong proof that 
grain has not been long sown here, and that the 
country has not been sufficiently cultivated to 
entice them to reside in it. This is scarcely 
an argument, as the country affords no cover 


for partridge or blackcock, and only strict 
preservation could secure the continued presence 
even of the heath-fowl in such a populous 
country. We are inclined to believe that not- 
withstanding emigration, enforced and other- 
wise, the country has been steadily advancing 
in population ever since the succession of the 
Mackenzies gave comparative security; while, 
for a century or two before that time, the 
continual wars and clan squabbles must have 
sadly depopulated the land. The clergy were 
driven out, the hereditary judge and his family 
destroyed, and all authority, save that of the 
strongest, for a time was in abeyance. 

Since the beginning of the century, the 
increase has been in correspondence with that 
of the kingdom generally. In 181 7, the popu- 
lation, according to Headrick, as taken by the 
ground officers, was 11,534; in 1831 it had 
increased to 14,541, and the latest statistics 
give about 25,000. 

This enormous increase in population, without 
a corresponding advance in means of livelihood, 
has necessarily caused a much greater number 


to be little removed above pauperism. But, 
notwithstanding this, the condition of the 
people in general, as regards morality and real 
elements of civilisation, has infinitely improved 
during this century. This progress we must 
acknowledge to have been mainly due to the 
honest endeavours of the clergy, and more 
especially those of the Free Church of Scotland, 
who have reason to point with pride to the 
present moral character of the people under 
their charge. When Martin visited the island, 
the inhabitants were not yet emancipated 
from the most pagan customs. 

Still later, the Rev. Mr. Buchanan gives 
a most deplorable account of the gross im- 
morality of the people — viewed in the light 
of the accepted code — in which their ministers 
and elders showed them a precious example. 

After describing the looseness of social ties 
in general, as well as in particular instances 
among the teachers of the people, he adds : 
"Presbyteries are for the most part held at 
public-houses, and continued sometimes without 
prorogation or adjournment for three successive 


days and nights. The holy fathers stand in 
no need of Paul's advice to Timothy, respecting 

his weak stomach One may form a 

judgment of their style of living from the bill 
of fare for one day in Harris. This was no 
less than one pound sterling per head, or three 
pounds for the three days that the presbytery 
lasted. As the meetings of the presbyteries 
are, for the most part, scenes of riot, they are 
attended only by young people of both sexes, 
who delight in frolic." It must be added : 
" These are not attended with such abomin- 
able excesses as mark the clerical assemblies 
in some other quarters" — wherever these may 

In commenting upon the reverend gentle- 
man's observations about Lewis immorality, this 
would partly spring from the habits and 
dwellings of the natives, partly from the de- 
grading " scallag " system, and, no doubt, greatly 
to the freer and more primitive ideas respecting 
sexual intercourse always current among the 
Scottish lower classes. 

However this may be, under the inquisitorial 


rule of the Free Church clergy, the natural births 
have fallen to a fractional percentage ; drunken- 
ness is rare in the country, bad language is 
almost never heard, and an intelligent body of 
people patiently submit to an arbitrary and not 
always intelligent control. The evil effects are, 
of course, those obtained under a comparatively 
under-educated and one-idead priesthood ; but 
we must be thankful for what they have really 
done for the social advancement of the inha- 

When the country passed about thirty years 
a g°> by purchase, into the hands of Mr. Mathe- 
son, a merchant prince, all traditional devotion 
was destroyed. The population felt they had 
been purchased ; and while losing all feeling of 
kinship and family attachment, wholesale evic- 
tion and compulsory emigration failed to ingra- 
tiate those who remained. Thus a weird, wild 
song, with an infinite charm alike to native and 
stranger, keeps up in every " clachan " the wail 
of the heart-broken wanderer from the roof-tree 
of his love. 

The tangible benefits in the shape of improved 


communication do not come home to those who 
can race across the moor with a sack of meal on 
their backs, who wish nothing to be brought 
them, and have nothing to send away. Indeed, 
it is wonderful how little advantage roads are 
to a country as yet unsettled except around the 
coast, and without produce or manufactures. 
Cattle and sheep, like the natives, travel easier 
on the moors. Still, improved communication 
is a great boon even in a desert, and may enable 
some future proprietor, who shall have gone 
to the West, in place of the East, for his 
notions of government, to permanently benefit 
the people. 


''T^HE Lews had become so disorganized in 
the time of Ruari Macleod, that on his 
death some of the Fife barons and gentlemen 
resolved to secure it for colonisation, on 
account of its reputed fertility and valuable 

Accordingly, in 1599, they obtained the 
country in gift from the king, who had chosen 
to consider it forfeited to the Crown. The 
principal adventurers were the Duke of Len- 
nox ; Patrick, Commendator of Lindores ; Wil- 
liam, Commendator of Pittenweem ; Sir James 
Anstruther, younger, of that ilk ; Sir James 
Sandilands, of Slamanno ; James Leirmonth, 
of Balcolmy ; James Spens, of Wormestoun ; 
John Forret, of Fingask ; David Home, 


younger, of Wedderburne ; and Captain Wil- 
liam Murray. 

These gentlemen collected a body of five to 
six hundred hired soldiers, besides gentlemen 
volunteers and artificers, with all necessaries, 
and sent them to the Lews, where they soon 
erected a small but pretty town. They were 
freed from any liability to rent for seven years, 
afterwards to be subject to a grain-rent of 140 
chalders of bear (barley) for Lewis, Rona, and 
the Shiant Isles. 

But Neil and Murdo, two of the natural sons 
of Old Ruari, although opposed on the question 
of Connanach's succession, were at one in hos- 
tility to the Fife colonists. Murdo, receiving 
information from Kintail, was enabled to seize 
the ship of the Laird of Balcolmy near the 
Orkneys, killing all his men, and only releasing 
the laird on promise of ransom, after a six 
months' captivity. His death on the way to 
Fife in 1600 prevented the fulfilment of the 

Neil next attacked his brother Murdo for 
harbouring the Morrisons of Ness, and sue- 


ceeded in capturing him, along with a number 
of that tribe. The Breve's relatives he killed, 
handing his brother Murdo over to the Fife 
men in exchange for a share of the island. 
Murdo was taken by them to St. Andrew's, and 
there executed, previously revealing the designs 
of Kintail, who had secretly employed him alike 
against the Fife colonists and the opponents of 

In return for his services to the colonists on 
this occasion, Neil received pardon at Edinburgh 
for his past misdeeds, and returned to the Lews 
with the adventurers. The prospects of the 
colonists now seemed so favourable, that they 
agreed to pay rental two years, in place of 
seven, after starting ; but, shortly after their 
return, Neil received some slight from Spens of 
Wormestoun, and upon the latter attempting to 
seize Macleod by stratagem, he was defeated 
with a loss of sixty men. 

This seeming a propitious moment for the 
furtherance of his projects, Kintail introduced 
another element of discord by setting free Tor- 
mad, brother of Torquil Dhu, and son of old 


Ruari by Maclean of Dowart's daughter. 
Tormad was thus the only living acknowledged 
legitimate son of old Ruari ; and his appear- 
ance in the Lews, as anticipated by Kintail, 
was immediately followed by his acknow- 
ledgment as chief by his natural brother Neil 
and the natives. 

The now-united Lewismen at once proceeded 
to drive out the colonists. They attacked and 
burnt the fort, killed most of the men, and 
secured the commanders. These were only 
liberated on condition that the king should 
grant the Macleods a remission for past 
offences, and that the title to the island be 
delivered to Tormad Macleod. But no sooner 
were the hostages at liberty, than the adven- 
turers a third time essayed to invade the island 
under the king's commission. This was de- 
layed until the king was secured on the throne 
of England, so that it was not till the summer 
of 1605 that the Fife men once more endea- 
voured to secure the inhospitable island, over 
which Tormad Mac Ruari had been chief since 
their departure in 1601. 


This expedition was so formidable, assisted as 
it was by the king's ships and several Highland 
gentlemen, that, against the advice of the reso- 
lute Neil, Tormad agreed to their terms and 
surrendered. Proceeding to London, he placed 
his legal claims before the king ; but although 
James received him favourably, the influence of 
the adventurers was sufficient to keep him a 
prisoner in Edinburgh from 1605 until 161 5, 
when he passed into Holland, and died in the 
service of Maurice, Prince of Orange. 

Neil MacRuari, now the only son of old 
Ruari, alone remained implacable ; and his 
continual antagonism, together with the unfor- 
tunate results of the speculation commercially, 
obliged the adventurers at length to abandon 
it and return to Fife, most of them utterly 
ruined thereby. 

In 1608 the king again granted the island to 
Lord Balmerino, Sir George Hay, and Sir James 
Spens, who undertook to colonise it. In 1609 
Lord Balmerino was convicted of high trea- 
son ; but Hay and Spens, after great prepara- 
tions and assistance from the neighbouring 


chiefs, re-invaded the Lews in order to plant a 
colony and secure the capture of the arch-rebel 

Lord Kintail, on this occasion as formerly, 
openly assisted and countenanced the Fifemen, 
while he secretly thwarted the enterprise. He 
sent them a vessel from Ross with a supply of 
provisions, on which they were depending, at 
the same time advising Neil of its departure and 
destination. The latter was not slow in seizing 
the vessel, and the colonists, being without 
provisions, were forced to abandon the island, 
leaving a garrison only in the fort of Stornoway. 
The ever-active Neil again attacked and burnt 
the fort in 1610, sending the garrison home to 
Fife, from whence no colonists ever returned to 
endeavour to wrest the sea-encircled peat from 
its restless and savage occupants. 

Such is the history of the well-intentioned 
effort to civilise the Western Isles, by planting 
a peaceable colony of fishermen on their then 
murder-haunted shores. The adventurers sank 
large sums of money in the enterprise, in the 
belief that it wuold prove to them an El Dorado, 


both from the believed fertility of the soil, and 
more especially from its wealth of fisheries. It 
failed, not so much from the direct hostility of 
the natives, headed by the brave freebooter Neil, 
as from the multiplicity of interests that were 
involved. Not only did the Mackenzies of Kin- 
tail look upon the colonists as poaching in their 
preserves, but the neighbouring chiefs, whose 
lands were alike threatened with colonisation, 
looked upon the cause of the Lewsmen as their 

Thus a party of private gentlemen had to bear 
the brunt of the open, and still more dangerous 
concealed, hostility of the ruthless chiefs of the 
North West, all at one only in hatred of the 



A S the immediate family of old Ruari were 
the last of the Siol Torquil who were 
chiefs of the Lews, it may be interesting to 
trace their extirpation, for scarcely one of this 
restless and headstrong race seems to have 
died a natural death. 

We have seen that Torquil Eir, the only son 
by the first wife, was drowned in a tempest; 
Torquil Connanach was disowned by his father 
and his title handed over to the Mackenzies ; 
Torquil Dhu was executed by the Mackenzies, 
while his brother Tormad, the only remaining 
legitimate son, was imprisoned for ten years 
in Edinburgh, and only released to die in 
Holland. John, son of Connanach, was killed 
by Rory Oig, his reputed illegitimate uncle, 


while the three sons of Torquil Dhu, by a 
sister of Macleod of Harris, all died without 
legal issue. 

Of the illegitimate sons, Normand Uigach 
was slain by his brother Donald ; Murdo was 
handed over to the Fife men by his brother 
Neil, and executed at St. Andrew's ; Donald 
was seized by Connanach and executed at 
Dingwall ; Rory Oig, captured by Torquil Dhu, 
was imprisoned by Maclean, but escaped only 
to perish in a snow-storm. 

Having thus destroyed each other like Kil- 
kenny cats, we must follow the fortunes of the 
only remaining brother, Neil, who seems to 
have had the most ferocious energy of any 
of old Ruari's sons. 

During his conflicts with the Fife colonists 
Neil had been driven out of his castle of Ness ; 
he then took refuge on the rocky islet of 
Berissay, at the entrance to Loch Roag. This 
he strongly fortified, and from it issued periodi- 
cally to harass the settlers, assisted by Macleod 
of Harris and others. 

When the colonists had finally been driven 


from the country and the titles handed over 
to Kintail, the latter landed with a commission 
of fire and sword against the turbulent islanders. 
The whole country was soon overrun, and the 
natives submitted, with the exception of Neil, 
who had always stubbornly opposed the pre- 
tentions of Torquil Connanach and the Mac- 
kenzies of Kintail. Retiring to his stronghold 
of Berissay along with Malcolm, William, and 
Rory — three sons of Rory Oig — Torquil Blair, 
and his four sons, and a following of thirty, 
he held it in security for three years. During 
this period an English pirate, named Peter 
Love, visited him in a vessel richly laden, and 
the two outlaws proposed to recapture the 
Lews. Love supplied Neil with guns to fortify 
the rock, and otherwise assisted him, while at 
the same time the island was well supplied 
with store of provisions. 

It seems that the pirate had fixed his affec- 
tions on a beautiful niece of Neil's, who was 
with him in Berissay, and a day being 
appointed for the marriage, Love landed with 
his officers and a party of his men for the 


festivities, while Macleod sent a body of his 
retainers on board the pirate vessel in order 
to be regaled by them in return. Such an 
opportunity could not be let slip, even on such 
an occasion, by this savage freebooter. Neil 
arranged previously that his flag flying on 
shore would be the signal that he had secured 
the captain and his officers, that his men on 
board might then capture the vessel and the 
intoxicated pirates. This effected, all valuables 
were removed and the ship set on fire. 

He now sent his prisoners to Edinburgh in 
hopes not only of receiving the reward that 
had been placed on Love's head, but also of 
obtaining his own pardon and the liberation 
of his legitimate brother Tormad. For, in all 
the details of these ferocious times, Neil and his 
illegitimate brothers seem ever to have re- 
mained constant unto death in their allegiance 
to him they considered the rightful heir. But 
if Neil expected pardon he was disappointed. 
The pirate and his crew were hanged at Leith, 
and Neil and his band were no better off 
than before. 


Their close and dangerous neighbourhood 
and frequent incursions at length decided the 
Mackenzies to secure them at any cost, and this 
they effected eventually through an expedient 
whose barbarity would have done credit to 
their opponents. Assembling together all the 
women and children to be found on shore 
belonging to Neil and his followers, and all 
in any way related to them, they placed them 
on a rock opposite Berissay at ebb tide. Neil 
was then notified that, unless he and his fol- 
lowers yielded before the return of the tide, 
all who were near and dear to them would 
be left at the mercy of the waves. The laments 
of the women and children as the waters 
advanced and threatened their destruction, 
and the prospect of such a harrowing spectacle 
before their eyes, were only too convincing 
arguments. The ruthless desperadoes who 
could feel nothing for an enemy were deeply 
moved at this terrible sight, and forced most 
reluctantly to deliver up the fort. 

Most of his followers now submitted to the 
Mackenzies ; but Neil himself, with a few men, 


retired into Harris under hiding, until he was 
forced at last to give himself up to Ruari 
Macleod of Harris. Macleod of Harris pro- 
mised to convey him to the English king, but 
on the way south he was forced to yield up his 
prisoner to the Privy Council, along with Neil's 
son Donald. Neil endeavoured, with the aid of 
the treasure secured from the English pirate, 
to bribe Sir Rory to intercede on his behalf, 
but the catalogue of crime brought against 
him effectually prevented the possibility of 
pardon. After a life that is one long list of 
deeds of daring lawlessness, the robber-chief 
was executed on the sands of Leith, April, 16 13. 
His son Donald, after three years spent in 
England with Sir Robert Gordon, died eventu- 
ally in Holland. There still remained the three 
sons of Rory Oig, who had been with Neil 
on Berissay, and who seem to have imbibed 
their uncle's hostility to the clan which had 
obtained the Lews more by fraud than right 
of succession. The Tutor of Kintail at length 
managed to seize them, when Rory and Wil- 
liam were executed, and Malcolm was retained 


a prisoner. The latter, however, managed to 
escape, and long harassed the Mackenzies. Join- 
ing Sir James Macdonald in 1 615, he made fre- 
quent incursions among the Mackenzies, and 
even in 161 6 returned from Flanders to his shoot- 
ing-ground, and killed two gentlemen of the 
usurping clan. He afterwards joined Sir J. 
Macdonald in Spain, where he remained till 
1620, his further history being contained in 
the pregnant notice, that in 1622 and 1626 
Lord Kintail and his clan were granted " com- 
missions of fire and sword against Malcolm 
Mac Ruari Macleod." A worthy pendant this 
to the record of a race who ever " smack of 
the wild Norwegian/' alike regardless of their 
own or their neighbours' lives, and dying any- 
where but in their beds. 

In the Lews a tale is told of the burial of 
the last of the race in the old church on Broad 
Bay, before the Mackenzies had obtained secure 
possession. According to the popular account, 
the funeral procession was on its way, when 
the Mackenzies appeared in force, and were 
about to attack the attendant Macleods. An 


aged islander then stepped from the cortege, 
convinced his adversaries of the folly of fighting 
over a dead chief, and, in exchange for freedom 
to deposit their honoured dead beside his 
stalwart ancestors, offered fealty to the invading 
clan. Is not a living dog better than a dead 
lion ? 

In the church of Knock, near Stornoway, 
may be seen the rudely sculptured figure of 
a warrior in a plaided kilt, with cross-hilted 
sword and dagger, and beneath it is popularly 
supposed to rest the remains of one who never 
knew repose in life, 

The Last of the Macleods. 





Land and Water. — The ten concluding chapters are descriptive 
of Islay— "Queen of the Hebrides," land of whisky, green 
pastures, and black cattle ; once the famed resort of the Lord of 
the Isles. We would gladly quote some of the author's delicious 
descriptions of scenery, and his quaint remarks upon things in 
general, peculiar to this " green isle," had we room at our disposal. 
We can, however, instead, strongly recommend our readers to test 
the author's charming style for themselves. Here and there short 
but very well written poems finish the chapters ; and, scattered 
through the 294 pages making up the volume, numerous illustrations 
from the author's sketches give a capital idea of the wild and 
picturesque beauty of the West Highland scenery. A more delight- 
ful little book than " Off the Chain " we have seldom read. 

Manchester Guardian. — We have met with few books more 
suggestive, and, therefore, really appropriate, to the ordinary 
tourist. Our friend " Gowrie " has certainly some advantages 
which are peculiar to himself. One of these is his artistic sense. 
This he employs constantly, and with great profit. We have 
pleasure in bearing testimony to the freshness, naturalness, and 
vigour of his work. The sketches made in Islay are of the best in 
the book, and we remember no book (except the late Alexander 
Smith's) which smacks so racy of the soil as this. The wild 
grandeur of the Highlands, the rude simplicity of the Highlanders, 
and the truly old-world character of their lives, dwellings, and 
occupations are all truthfully depicted in this excellent little 
holiday volume. 

Manchester Courier. — " Gowrie," whosoever he may be, may 
certainly claim credit for freshness and simplicity. He has con- 
trived to pack into his 300 pages or so, not meiely a fair quantity 
of lively description, but a good deal of actual information, such as is 
not to be obtained even by the most diligent student of guide-books 
and hand-books. His explorations lay chiefly in the neighbour- 
hood of Tarbert, concerning which place and its people we get a 
good deal that is not only new but instructive as well. With 
regard to the herring fishery, he is thoroughly well informed. 

Glasgow Herald. — The author, whoever he is, may be set down 
as a sort of universal genius or Jack-of-all-trades in literature — a man 
who is equally at home in metaphysics and in writing rhymes on 
the trawling of herring. The elephant is said to be delicate in 
touch as well as powerful in muscle, and, as a consequence, it can 
either pick up a pin or rend the gnarled oak. So it is with " Gowrie." 
He is at home everywhere, up to everything, and can accommodate 
himself to all sorts of circumstances. 

Athenceum. — More than this, " Gowrie " has evidently an ex- 
cellent eye for scenery. It is obvious that he travelled pleasantly 
and well.